After spending the good part of a decade playing catch-up in the battle royal for antilock braking system (ABS) market share, Alliedsignal Automotive is throwing in the towel. Since the mid-'80s the company worked to dispel the image that it wasn't a serious threat in the world ABS market because it trailed too far behind its competitors in both technology and experience. And even though it landed contracts for highly touted nameplates such as Jeep Cherokee; Chrysler Corp.'s Cirrus, Stratus, Breeze and Sebring; and Ford Motor Co.'s Mondeo, Contour and Mysdque, AlbedSignal recently announced that it was leaving the ABS business.

AlliedSignal Automotive President John Barter cites a meager 6% share of a mature market that's not likely to change for several years as the key reason for his company's strategy change.

"It's an expensive product line to support, especially when you have to continually develop smaller and lighter systems and the call for expanded functionality (meaning traction control and vehicle dynamics control)," says Mr. Barter. "There's a double layer of investment, and it's a very difficult business equation."

Before it jumps ship, however, AlliedSignal will try to find a strong ABS supplier to form a joint venture or strategic partnership in which AlliedSignal could contribute its strength (and 30% market share) in conventional brakes to offer integrated braking systems.

"Finding a partner is our first interest," says Mr. Barter. "But if we can't find a partner, exiting an existing product line could take years." Robert Bosch Corp. is believed to be at the top of Alliedsignal's short list of potential partners. Bosch, unlike its chief ABS rival -- ITT Automotive -- doesn't produce conventional brakes. And Chrysler recently awarded ITT a major integrated brake system for a future Jeep vehicle.

ABS and conventional braking make up $2 billion of AlliedSignal's projected $5.6 billion sales this year. The balance is in air bags and seat belts, turbochargers, filters and spark plugs. AlliedSignal will stay in the heavy-duty ABS market with roughly one-third of that market, a strong second behind Rockwell-WABCO. ABS for heavy-duty trucks uses air pressure to modulate brakes rather than the hydraulics used in light vehicles.

Despite AlliedSignal's decision to pull out of the ABS business as a stand-alone competitor and recent reports questioning the effectiveness of ABS, many ABS suppliers are enthusiastic about the future of what many call the most important auto safety device since the seat belt. Privately, executives at other ABS suppliers are concerned about the recent negative reports and even criticize the media for attaching so much importance on studies that they say are incomplete and inconclusive. They argue that ABS-equipped vehicles avoiding accidents do not appear on police reports from which the research is drawn. Another concern is that many consumers aren't as sold on the technology. When Chrysler made ABS optional on Neon compacts, only 6% of buyers included the $500 to $600 option.