FOWLERVILLE, MI – TRW Automotive Holdings Corp. is awaiting a decision by the Economic Commision for Europe to determine whether it can move ahead with plans to offer its electric parking-brake technology as an automotive antitheft system, a senior engineer says.

Electric parking brakes, commonly found on European vehicles equipped with manual transmissions, eliminate the need for hand levers or foot pedals associated with traditional parking brakes.

Vince Austin, TRW product planning director-global braking systems, says work already is under way on a security application for its electric-brake technology.

“It is not in production, we do not have an order for it yet, but customers are looking very strongly at this for the 2011-2012 timeframe,” he says.

In order for the technology to qualify as an antitheft device in Europe, Austin says TRW had to change the electrical architecture to ensure a car thief can’t just apply 12 volts to the caliper to release the brakes and drive away.

Whether TRW gets the go ahead to proceed with its plans depends on the ECE’s decision, which is due in March. Austin says he is not aware of any such discussions in North America to date.

If TRW is able to offer its system as an antitheft device, it has the potential to save OEM customers money, reduce weight and free up space in their vehicles, Austin says. That’s because the new technology replaces standard parking brakes and transmission antilock devices.

“We’ve been told by some European auto makers their device to lock the transmission to prevent theft is $100,” Austin says. TRW’s electric park brake “becomes very, very attractive (at a cost of $30). It’s a big savings.”

Electric parking brakes also add an element of safety, as the system can be activated as soon as a button is pushed or a vehicle door is opened. This offers better protection against vehicle roll, as the maximum clamp force is always applied, Austin says.

Additionally, TRW’s systems can perform a variety of other functions, such as “Auto Hold” and “Hill Hold.”

Auto Hold keeps the vehicle in a stationary position until the driver presses the accelerator pedal, eliminating the need to depress the brake pedal while in situations such as traffic jams.

Hill Hold is best used in off-road situations or on hilly terrain. The system prohibits the vehicle from rolling either from a parked position or in situations such as at traffic lights.

Austin is quick to point out TRW’s electric brake system is not a so-called “cable puller,” as is the case with a number of competitive systems.

“Those devices replace the lever with an electro-mechanical device,” he says. “They use the switch to pull the cable. (Such a system) is not by-wire; they’re very much a cable system,” he says. “But to the end consumer, (competitors) may say it is an electric parking brake.”

Austin says TRW’s primary European customers include BMW AG, Volkswagen AG and Ford of Europe.

One reason the technology has yet to fully catch on in North America is the greater ratio of automatic transmissions vs. Europe, he says. But as more European cars equipped with electric parking brakes are exported to North America, consumers are starting to request the technology at dealerships.

bpope@wardsauto.com