In the industrial countries, almost all new cars are equipped with at least one airbag; most of them have at least two, and in the high end, six to eight airbags are seen rather often. For this reason, market saturation is appearing at the horizon. Ben Scott, Automotive Market Analyst with IMS Research says 'There is a trend towards putting more airbags within a car, but the number of bags will plateau for two reasons. First, there is limited space in a car's cabin to fit airbags. Second, there comes a point when too many airbags in a car is actually a safety concern, rather than a safety feature'. Because the market for airbag systems in established regions is maturing and becoming saturated, OEMs and Tier 1s are focusing on developing regions as potentially lucrative markets.
Developing regions currently require a different, more basic airbag system than developed regions. Catering to both markets requires flexibility; for example, TRW has handled this situation with a two tiered approach. It offers a complex, occupant dynamic based airbag control unit which is aimed at developed regions. However, TRW also offers a scalable airbag control unit for emerging markets. This simpler control unit is designed for low-end applications, but can be scaled upwards so it is comparable to that of the 'developed region' control unit. This approach is being supported by the semiconductor companies; for example, Texas Instruments is offering a range of squib driver chips including the TPIC71004-Q1 four-channel squib driver. This driver enables scaling of airbag control unit designs.
With the number of airbags per car reaching saturation point for cars in the developed region, airbag system design will change. 'OEM and Tier 1 strategy for airbag systems will have to change. IMS Research is observing it currently, but there will be more emphasis on intelligent and effective airbag deployment in the future' explains Scott. 'A sophisticated sensor network will be imperative