DETROIT – Having successfully raised the public profile of electronic stability control (ESC) to “must-have” status, Continental Automotive Systems North America is taking telematics on the road.

“We’ve already ordered the (telematics demonstration) vehicle,” says Dean McConnell, director-safety and driver assistance systems. “We really see the advancement of communication/telematics, not just infotainment and comfort, but also active safety.”

That was a key impetus for the supplier’s $1 billion acquisition last summer of Motorola Inc.’s automotive electronics business, McConnell tells Ward’s here at the Convergence 2006 Transportation Electronics Conference.

In 2002, Continental joined forces with rival Robert Bosch Corp. to raise awareness in the U.S. of ESC’s safety benefits. Thanks largely to the Electronic Stability Control Coalition, the feature is available on about 30% of the nation’s fleet, compared with 6% when the campaign began.

“More and more people, through the education process, are asking for it,” McConnell says. “They will go into the dealer and say, ‘I want a vehicle with stability control.’”

And just last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. issued a rule requiring auto makers to include the feature on all vehicles by 2011.

McConnell, sees telematics in a similar light, saying the public will demand the feature when its safety benefits are demonstrated. And that’s what Continental plans to do.

“There’s lots of potential there,” he says. “Integrating navigation systems is one of the areas where we think we can use telematics. It can help you predict there’s a curve coming up. Slope is another one.”

The technology also can prepare a vehicle for a sudden stop if outfitted with real-time traffic information.

“There’s a lot of stuff there that’s out in the future, but we’re already starting to figure out how we implement and integrate it,” McConnell says.

His remarks echo those of Hitachi Ltd. President Kazuo Furukawa, who told Convergence attendees in a keynote address Tuesday his company is working on similar features.

Meanwhile, McConnell refutes a suggestion Continental overstepped industry boundaries by pitching its technology directly to consumers – effectively forcing auto makers to adopt it without regard for who would pick up the tab.

An increasing number of models feature the once-optional ESC technology as standard equipment.

“We’ve done it in concert with our OEM customers,” McConnell maintains. “There may be pressure in the market, but we’re trying to educate. And that’s the focus of our efforts. As long as we keep it in that context, our (customers) are very supportive. In fact, they’ve used our mobile exhibit in their dealer training.”

emayne@wardsauto.com