INTERVIEW: TRW vice president global safety systems, Frank Mueller

By Simon Warburton | 5 July 2012

"We are producing something good that can save lives" - TRWs Frank Mueller

"We are producing something good that can save lives" - TRW's Frank Mueller

TRW Automotive Holdings this week held a 'ride and drive' series of presentations at the Hockenheim Ring - home to the German Grand Prix in two weeks time. "There is nothing more exciting than the fact we are producing something good that can save lives," says TRW VP global occupant safety systems, Frank Mueller, who spoke to Simon Warburton in Germany. 

Outlining a series of initiatives such as the integrated brake control system (IBC), active seat belt presenter, video camera sensor and electronic stability control, as well as several prototype technologies, Muller also spoke to just-auto at Hockenheim about some of TRW's road safety initiatives, driver assistance systems and how to make technology affordable for the EUR10,000 car as well as the S-Class Mercedes.

j-a: How far does legislation affect suppliers such as TRW in terms of road safety?

FM: "If you look at deaths on the roads in industrialised countries, it is much better than in new and emerging countries. We are very much monitoring regulation and legislation trends in the market.

"For example, Brazil requires every vehicle to be equipped with frontal airbag protection [while there are] things such as pedestrian protection in Europe. We see regulation for five-star [Euro NCAP] more and more and in countries such as China - it [safety] is our mission - that is why we are in business.

"We are trying to convince the public you can do better in terms of death on the roads - we promote technology but we can't change a culture."

j-a: Isn't your advanced technology too expensive for emerging countries to insist it be applied as standard to vehicles?

FM: "It [technology] can't just be for S-Class Mercedes - it has to be for a EUR10,000 car as well. We are trying to make affordable safety so we are looking at technology we can downsize to make it affordable - it is not about making the most expensive technology.

"When we talk to customers, we are convinced...people will say absolute safety of the vehicle is very important. We work with customers - that is practical safety. People want to have comfort - the majority of people are not race drivers.

"Active safety is becoming more and more a growth factor in terms of what we can offer. Systems need to be intelligent - seatbelts for example - depending on whether you are 100lbs or 200lbs. [TRW demonstrated its active seat belt presenter at Hockenheim, which, as well as potentially helping elderly or less mobile passengers, acts as a reminder to buckle up.

[The presenter is mounted directly on the height adjuster within a vehicle's B pillar. When the occupant is seated the presenter - a small arm which is in the pillar - brings the belt forward to a position making it easier to reach. As soon as the occupant takes the belt, the arm reverts to its original park position. The presenter can be integrated into the B pillar with no modification required other than to the trim].

j-a: How can legislation play more of a role - is there too much of it?

FM: "Euro NCAP has done a fabulous job [but] the key driver is the 1.7m [road] deaths out there. The United Nations has called 2012 the year of safety - they want to reduce deaths on the roads dramatically. Governments are taking [this] seriously."

j-a: How does TRW view its role within the road safety environment?

FM: "There is nothing more exciting than the fact we are producing something good that can save lives. It gives us a certain identity as a company - we are doing something good and still running a business."

j-a: "Can you give some examples of how TRW's technology is helping?

FM: "We are developing - with a couple of OEMs - the air bag fitted in the roof. Green technology will also be very relevant - green propellants are more and more a driver for us. In general, when it comes to modules, for example seat development such as seatbelts, we talk to module suppliers."

j-a: How has TRW coped with the economic downturn - in Europe in particular?

FM: "We, as everyone else, have to deal with the current Euro crisis. We always have regions that are doing better or worse depending on the climate.

"We are opening 11 new plants in China - some of them are already open so we are making a major move towards capturing this growth."

TRW was demonstrating a range of technologies at Hockenheim this week including the integrated brake system, a vacuum independent technology. The system can be configured to suit the vehicle manufacturer's braking, vehicle sizing and functionality requirements.

TRW says the speed at which this system can apply brake pressure makes it suitable for automatic braking systems. The technology should be ready for production for 2016 model year applications.

The supplier was keen to stress the affordability aspect of its equipment with TRW executive vice president, sales and business development, Peter Lake, noting: "Developing affordable safety systems has never been more important.

"With legislation and other market drivers such as Euro NCAP's active safety criteria driving increased fitment of a range of safety technologies, we need to support the vehicle manufacturers to deliver advanced safety affordable for every driver.

"It is our vision someone who has just passed their driving test in any market, should be able to afford a car equipped with the best possible safety solutions."