Using innovation as a compass to chart its course, Hella KGaA Hueck & Co. says it has weathered the industry downturn and sees bright prospects for supplying new technology for future vehicles.

Over the course of 18 months of restructuring, the private company based in Lippstadt, Germany, closed a lighting plant in York, SC, eliminating 380 jobs. The business was transferred to Mexico. Global employment has fallen from 24,736 in 2008 to 23,500 currently.

Martin Fischer, president of Hella's North American operations, based in Plymouth, MI, says the company is done with restructuring, and that new financing has put the company on stable footing.

“The world has changed, and Hella has changed with it,” he says. “In global comparison, we can say the U.S. and the North American market will be one of the growth areas.”

Hella's key product segments are lighting and electronics, and both promise significant growth for the supplier.

In electronics, Hella announces a new joint venture with Samsung Electro-Mechanics Co. Ltd., a division of Korea's Samsung Group, to develop lightweight rear-view cameras for cars and trucks, beginning in 2011.

Known as RVC3, the new camera module is about the size of a quarter — 25% smaller than the camera Hella currently produces — and weighs less than half an ounce, making it much easier to package.

Hella expects the market for rear-view camera systems to skyrocket as the federal Kids and Cars Safety Act rolls out in the coming years. The device, connecting to a display screen on the dashboard, provides a visual of everything behind a vehicle.

Some 300 people, mostly children, die annually in backup accidents, says Mark Brainard, vice president-program management at Hella Electronics.

“We think part of the legislation will highly recommend use of rear-view cameras to avert those tragedies,” Brainard says.

Samsung provides the core technology, such as the lens and electronics, while Hella will coordinate packaging and integration to meet customer requirements.

Hella has supplied its current-generation rear-view cameras for Chrysler minivans since 2005, but Brainard describes the Samsung technology as “far better” and less expensive. As for sticker prices, Brainard predicts rear-view camera systems will be cut in half by 2014.

Brainard forecasts a 50% annual growth rate for radar systems, another Hella product line that enables technologies such as lane-change assist, blind-spot detection and cross-traffic alert.

In lighting, Hella supplies one of the first LED headlamps for the all-new Audi A8, which is arriving now in Europe and at the end of the year in North America.

The highly stylized headlamps have generated significant buzz for the new A8. Initially projected to have a relatively low take rate, Hella now expects more than half of A8 buyers to opt for the LED package.

Each unit has nearly 100 LEDs for turn signals, daytime running lamps and low and high beams, says Steffen Pietzonka, vice president-marketing for lighting.

The headlamp even has a “motorway” setting, which allows for better illumination on highways. Another nice feature uses GPS to automatically switch the direction of the headlamps when a vehicle in Europe crosses the border into the U.K., where they drive on the left side of the road.

LED headlamps are more expensive, but they reduce glare, last much longer and require 40% less energy than a conventional halogen bulb. By 2025, about 60% of new vehicles are expected to have LED headlamps, Pietzonka says.

Hella also is marketing a new electronic wastegate actuator for turbochargers.

Pneumatic valves are used today to control the exhaust flow to the turbocharger. But Hella says pneumatic devices have performance drawbacks that hurt fuel efficiency.