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Hyundai Mobis touts its new air bag for sunroofs

South Korean parts maker looking to shed copycat reputation, boost innovation

Mobis says its new sunroof airbags inflate extremely quickly if the car overturns, to keep passengers from being thrown from the vehicle.

SEOUL -- Hyundai Mobis, a major car parts maker affiliated with South Korea's Hyundai Motor, has developed an airbag for sunroofs.

The company, known for its production quality standards and distribution network, sees the new air bag -- which it says is the first of its kind in the world -- as a springboard to technological leadership in the market.

With Hyundai group carmakers struggling to grow in the two leading markets of the U.S. and China, Mobis is seeking to expand its business with car manufacturers outside the group.

A sunroof is a panel of reinforced glass in an automobile roof that can be opened to allow in air and light.

Sunroofs enable passengers in the back seats to enjoy wider views of the landscape and see more of the stars in the night sky.

While a growing number of new cars have been equipped with sunroofs, air bags for these devices have not been available.

The sunroof air bag developed by Mobis is designed to inflate extremely quickly when the vehicle is involved in an accident, and covers the roof within 0.08 second.

It prevents the passengers from being thrown from the vehicle and reduces the impact of accidents on the people inside.

When the car overturns, the sensors in the air bag detect the angle of the car's body, allowing the inflation gas generator to inflate the bag at the most appropriate angle to protect the passengers.

The main technological challenge in developing air bags for sunroofs is ensuring they inflate stably irrespective of whether the sunroofs are open or closed, according to the company.

Mobis has used 11 patented technologies to boost the reliability of its sunroof air bag.

Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors, another group automaker, are likely to be the first customers for the product. But Mobis says it does not yet know when the sunroof air bag will be actually installed in a production car.

A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey of car accidents in North America from 2000 to 2015 in which cars overturned found that some 260 people were thrown out of the vehicle through the roof in these accidents.

Mobis started offering air bags in earnest in 2002. Demand for air bags has been growing steadily over the years as automakers have been stepping up their efforts to improve safety. Some cars on the market now are equipped with more than 10 air bags.

Mobis is aiming to catch up with global air bag giants such as Autoliv of Sweden and Japan's Toyoda Gosei by developing a market for its sunroof air bags.

The global market for airbags and related products will grow to be worth 1.45 trillion yen ($12.9 billion) by 2025, up about 10% from 2016, according to a projection by Fuji Chimera Research Institute.

The market has strong growth potential due to increasing public interest in car safety and the environment, according to the research institute.

Mobis announced at the end of October that its group operating profit for the first nine months of this year dropped 23% from a year earlier to 1.7 trillion won ($1.56 billion).

The company blamed the profit decline on sluggish sales of its car parts in China.

"We are hoping to sell our new product to the makers of high-end sport utility vehicles to establish our status as a technology-oriented parts maker in the world market," said a senior Mobis executive.

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