The rearview mirror market is divided into two areas: exterior and interior mirrors. Interior mirror designs may typically feature prismatic glass or anti-glare mirrors together with a range of added functions. Exterior mirrors may include power functions, spherical glass, temperature sensors, glass demister, painted mirrors, memory and antenna. Matthew Beecham reports.

Given that a driver typically looks at the interior mirror once every 15 seconds, it would seem the ideal location to display a variety of information. Compasses and temperature displays, remote keyless entry receivers, trip function displays, telematics capabilities and microphones are all typical of the added-value functions found in today’s mirrors. Tomorrow’s mirrors could display all sorts of other information such as phone numbers, turn-by-turn navigational directions, radio volume and tyre pressure.

One of the promising growth areas in the mirror sector across North America, Europe and now Japan is the auto-dimming function. Already, over one-quarter of all new cars built in North America are equipped with auto-dimming mirrors (sold as either standard or optional fitment) while Europe is catching up fast. The European market is showing the same rate of acceleration as observed in North America. In the JD Power & Associates 2003 Feature Contenting Report, auto-dimming mirrors were the third most-desired emerging feature (out of 29) among new car buyers. And as vehicle makers add more and more features in another bid to differentiate their cars from the competition, that spells out good news for mirror makers. Yet, only 16% of the world’s light vehicles offered an interior auto-dimming mirror in 2003, suggesting significant opportunity for growth.

Opinions are divided, however, in terms of when the auto-dimming market will plateau. While some mirror manufacturers believe that interior auto-dimming fitment levels could reach 50% given the introduction of cheaper technology, others believe that the market has already leveled out. In terms of the exterior mirror, some manufacturers report virtually no growth in auto-dimming mirrors in North America so far this decade. And with some vehicle makers decontenting certain models, the prospect for fitment growth is low. For example, Mercedes-Benz have stated that they plan to fit auto-dimming glass to the driver-side wing mirror. If Mercedes-Benz believe it is good enough to fit only one side with auto-dimming, other vehicle makers will surely follow.

Rain repellent mirror glass is another major area of interest. While rain repellent mirrored glass has been around in Japan for the past 20 years, its application in Europe and North America has been limited. However, there is considerable research underway in Europe into this area.

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The power-folding mirror market is blossoming, too. Although power-folding mirrors have long since featured on luxury cars, they are gradually being fitted to more and more minivans and SUVs. In the US, power-folding mirrors are increasingly applied to large SUVs in order help garage the vehicle. In Japan, the use of power-folding mirrors is also popular. In fact, the Japanese exterior rearview mirror sector is a very lucrative market because some 70% of new cars come equipped with painted, power-folding mirrors, enabling them to squeeze through many narrow, city streets. The unit value of outside mirrors is therefore relatively high, indeed they typically cost twice as much compared to the US or Europe. Power extending mirrors for towing caravans is another major area of research.

Signal mirrors are also becoming popular. Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz fit signal mirrors to most of their models. Since Schefenacker began supplying signal mirrors to Mercedes-Benz, this function has gradually become popular. The signal is either displayed wrapped-around the exterior mirror or integrated into the glass using LED or incandescent bulbs. Muth Mirror Systems has also introduced a brake module to enhance its Signal Mirror safety system. A solid red chevron signal appears in both side mirrors when the brakes are applied. A flashing signal appears in the corresponding mirror when the indicator is switched on. Flashing chevrons appear in both mirrors when the hazard lights are on. The signals create an extra alert for following drivers. Illuminator lights that switch on using the remote key fob are also popular amongst women drivers.

But some things never change. The pressure to reduce mirror product prices year-on-year by the vehicle makers is relentless. Faced with double-digit price reductions year-on-year, is there any money to be made from making mirrors?

Market players
The main manufacturers of rearview mirrors are Magna Donnelly, Gentex, Ficosa International, Engelmann, Ichikoh, Schefenacker and Murakami Kaimeido. Table 1 summarises the major players’ business activities.

Table 1: Major mirror manufacturers’ business activities

Manufacturer Business summary
Ficosa International Ficosa International is one of the largest mirror manufacturers in the world, producing some 18 million mirrors annually. Headquartered in Barcelona, Spain, Ficosa employs 6,000 people across factories in Europe (Spain, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Poland, Slovenia and Turkey), North America (Mexico), South America (Brazil and Argentina) and Asia (India and Korea). In a bid to cut costs, Ficosa has moved some manufacturing to China, India and Romania. In 2002, Ficosa posted a 6.6% rise in sales to €711 million. Rearview mirror sales account for 43% of the company’s turnover.Its largest customer is the VW Group, accounting for nearly one-fifth of total sales. Ficosa supplies most of the major vehicle makers. The company spends about 5% of its annual turnover on R&D.
Gentex Design and manufactures automatic-dimming rearview mirrors and fire protection products. Automotive sales account for 95% of total turnover. Gentex has a 77% of the world market for auto-dimming mirrors. Operates four manufacturing facilities in Zeeland, Michigan; an automotive sales office in Livonia, Michigan; and automotive sales and engineering subsidiaries in Germany, Japan, France, Korea and the UK. Gentex employs 2,000 people and continues to recruit. The company expects to open a fourth plant in Zeeland in 2005, creating 500 jobs within five years.In December 2003, Gentex opened a $5 million office, distribution and light manufacturing facility in Erlenbach, Germany. Its three largest customers are General Motors, DaimlerChrysler and Toyota. In 2003, Gentex produced 7.1 million interior rearview mirrors (+13% over 2002) and 3.1 million exterior rearview mirrors (+25% over 2002).The company is delivering an increasing number of mirrors that include advanced electronic features beyond auto-dimming, such as compass and temperature displays, LED turn signals, HomeLink, LED map lamps, lighting. In 2003, about 56% of the total interior units that Gentex shipped had one or more of those features, compared with 53% in 2002 and 41% in 2001. Gentex has extended its reach into Japan, establishing local subsidiaries as well as setting up alliances with mirror makers Ichikoh and Murakami Corp.Gentex invests about 6% of its turnover in engineering, research and development.
Ichikoh Designs and manufactures interior and exterior rearview mirrors as well as headlamps and wipers. Claims a 34% share of the rearview mirror market in Japan. Posted sales of ¥117,226 million in 2003, of which automotive equipment sales represented 97%.Invests 4.5% of sales on R&D.Joint venture in Malaysia with Delloyd Industries to manufacture headlamps and mirrors. Ichikoh owns 60% of the new venture, Delloyd owns the remainder. Main customers include Nissan Motors, Nissan Diesel, Nissan Shatai, Nissan Altia, Toyota Motor, Toyota Auto Body, Fuji Heavy Industries, Daihatsu, Mazda, Isuzu, Mitsubishi, Hino Motors, Suzuki, Honda, Autech Japan, Kubota, NHK Sales and Calsonic Kansei.Ichikoh recently won a contract to supply exterior rearview mirrors for 2005/6 model year GM full-size SUVs.
Magna Donnelly Following the merger of Magna’s mirror business with Donnelly Corp, Magna Donnelly became the world’s largest producer of automotive mirror systems.Magna bought Donnelly for $320 million and assumed debts worth $95 million. The deal added Ford and Opel to Magna’s mirror customer base. Magna Donnelly designs and manufactures a range of electronic modules that are integrated into the vehicle’s interior and exterior mirrors. Headquartered in Detroit, Magna Donnelly operates 26 production facilities worldwide, 12 in North America, 10 in Europe and 4 in Asia.Its added-value mirror features include lights, electronic compasses, temperature and other display technologies.Looking ahead, the company sees good potential to integrate even more electronics into mirrors including humidity and rain sensors, seatbelt indicators, remote keyless entry receivers and controls for interior lighting.Magna Donnelly believes that auto-dimming mirrors ‘will represent an increasing share of the rearview mirror market and present a significant growth opportunity.’
Murakami Kaimeido Murakami Kaimeido is one of the largest manufacturers of interior and exterior rearview mirrors in Japan. Its product range includes power folding mirrors, rain repellant mirrors and aspheric mirrors.Murakami Kaimeido’s latest published figures show it with sales of ¥39,496 million, of which rearview mirrors accounted for 78%.The company’s customers include Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Honda, Daihatsu, and Suzuki.Murakami Kaimeido’s mirror systems division operates three plants in Japan (Fujieda, Yaizu and Oigawa). Its international network includes subsidiaries and joint ventures in Thailand, China and the US.Faced with a slow recovery in Japanese vehicle production and near-level sales over the past five years, the company has expanded overseas, particularly in North America and Asian countries.
Schefenacker Schefenacker designs and develops a range of automotive mirror systems, lighting systems and audio systems. Schefenacker is a strong player in the exterior rearview mirrors market (for light vehicles), holding a 29% share of the worldwide market, 36% in West Europe, 20% in Asia-Pacific and 32% in North America. Schefenacker is the only worldwide supplier of exterior rearview mirrors with significant shares in all major car-producing regions. Its exterior mirrors are offered with heating systems, anti-glare tilt, electrochromic glass, memory, power folding function and integral lights. Its interior rearview mirror functions may include electrochromic glass, memory, microphone, humidity sensor, temperature gauge, clock and lamps.The group’s exterior mirrors are fitted on a wide variety of vehicles, including the Mercedes-Benz E-class, Volvo S40, Hyundai Santa Fe, VW Golf, Renault Megane and Ford F-Series.Its interior mirrors are also featured on a range of models, including the Mercedes-Benz S-class, Ford Focus, VW Beetle, Audi A8, Nissan Almera and Peugeot Berlingo.Headquartered in Esslingen, Germany, the group has operations in Australia, China, France, Germany, Hungary, Korea, India, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Slovenia, Spain and the UK and US.


Interior rearview mirror innovations

As the electronic content per vehicle rises year on year, packaging designers are struggling to integrate new features, displays, sensors and driver communication interfaces. New electronic features can be located in four main areas: the instrument panel, overhead console, centre console or mirror. An increasing number of features are now being integrated into the mirror. Today, some up-market models are equipped with interior mirrors featuring hands-free microphones, antennas, global positioning system receivers, wireless modems, microprocessors, user interfaces and various displays. For example, Gentex’s telematics rearview mirror features buttons to summon emergency vehicles and roadside assistance, access to cell phone, request concierge services (reservations) and turn on the mirror’s various functions, such as outside temperature and compass.

Magna Donnelly pioneered the development of lighted mirrors as well as mirrors that feature telematic technology. The telematic mirror supplied for General Motors’ OnStar services has a built-in microphone and provides a link to emergency services and a host of concierge-type services. On a monthly basis, OnStar responds to about 700 automatic airbag notifications, 700 stolen vehicle location requests, 250,000 routing calls, 28,000 remote unlock requests, 15,000 GM Goodwrench remote vehicle diagnostics, 13,000 roadside assistance calls, 7,000 emergency calls and 2,000 Good Samaritan calls.

Magna Donnelly’s camera vision products include the BabyVue, which provides the driver with a view of infants in rear-facing back seats, and ReversAid, which gives drivers a better view of the area behind their vehicles when reversing. ChatBack, the company’s latest camera vision system, enables drivers to use the vehicle’s DVD entertainment system to talk with children in the back seat without having to take their eyes off the road. Other recent innovations include a new PV system and demonstrated its potential on the Ford Visos concept car. The Panoramic Vision system comprises twin cameras at the rear of the car and cameras mounted on each door, and measures the location and speed of vehicles approaching from the rear and overtaking. Images from the system are displayed on an LCD screen in clear view of the driver and the system issues a lane-change warning if such a manoeuvre is considered unsafe.

Exterior rearview mirror innovations
Some novel advances in exterior rearview mirrors are also worth noting. One of the most popular features are turn signals. They serve to warn other drivers of imminent lane changes. Gentex’s auto-dimming turn signal mirrors are featured on a number of GMC and Chevrolet trucks and SUVs and General Motors passenger cars. The company also reports interest from many other vehicle makers. These mirrors are increasing in popularity and may actually serve to aid the penetration of auto-dimming exterior mirrors in general. Researchers at the University of Michigan concluded that the use of a turn signal integrated into the glass of an exterior mirror (as opposed to signals placed as either a sidemarker on the vehicle or in the exterior mirror shell) is the safer way to warn other drivers of a driver’s intent to turn or change lanes.

Rain repellent mirror glass is another major area of interest. While rain repellent mirrored glass has been around in Japan for the past 20 years, its application in Europe and North America has been limited. However, there is considerable research underway in Europe into this area. The French mirror company, Miroiterie Hirtz (which belongs to the Glaverbel group) has developed a new photo-reactive treatment for exterior mirrors which uses an invisible, photosensitive mineral layer to coat external mirrors. The process, known as Hydrosafe, is not yet in series production, but negotiations with suppliers and automakers are in progress. The surface coating repels water, including the mist of tiny droplets found on cars parked out-of-doors overnight. The coating also has other properties which contribute to better vision. Glare from the headlights of cars behind, for instance, is reduced by 45% and electrically-heated mirrors are cleared in half the time normally required. The Hydrosafe surface cleans itself of any foreign material too, while photo catalysis eliminates the effects of atmospheric pollution and road dirt. Exposure to ultraviolet rays creates a reaction which actually refreshes the exterior layer, thereby preserving the reflective quality for the life of the vehicle.

Ichikoh Industries and Matsushita Electric Works Ltd claim to have created a cheaper exterior rearview mirror. The mirror, featuring a new hydrophilic (rain repellent) coating, can be made at a cost that is 20% below that of competitive products. The partners have created a new material, by improving an existing Matsushita Electric Works photocatalytic coating, which can be applied using a simplified, reduced-temperature process that brings down manufacturing costs.

Ficosa used the 2002 Paris motor show to draw attention to its exterior rearview mirror fitted on the Bentley Continental GT. Among the technologies built into this mirror is a module integrating the company’s ‘blin-k’ indicator repeater system and a courtesy ‘puddle’ light. The ‘blin-k’ system is claimed to improve safety by warning other drivers within a 180° viewing range that the vehicle is about to turn. The indicator lights use light-emitting diodes and provide a better view since they are at eye level on the outermost part of the vehicle. The courtesy light illuminates the side of the vehicle from the mirror down to the ground, making access easier in dark places. The xenon lamp is operated by a timer independent of the car’s interior lighting. The Bentley rearview mirrors also have an electronic position memory system and power fold-away function.

Ficosa has also developed a digital blind spot detector incorporated into rearview mirrors. The system consists of a tiny digital camera with an integrated image processing device, incorporated into the rearview mirror that detects vehicles within the driver’s blind spot area. If a vehicle is detected in the blind spot the system warns the driver audibly and visibly. The innovation is the result of five years of R&D and collaboration with other companies.

Expert Analysis

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