The magnetically charged fluid that makes for great handling and cornering stability in the '02 Cadillac Seville STS may find its way into other automotive applications within the next two years.

Lord Corp., a privately held supplier based in Cary, NC, produces the magnetorheological (MR) fluid that Delphi Corp. injects into its MagneRide shock absorbers as the crucial part of a semi-active suspension on the STS. The fluid contains iron particles that can be magnetically manipulated to form a rock-hard suspension or create a soft, billowy feel, depending on dynamic input.

Likewise, the fluid can provide the variability necessary for so-called next-generation “smart restraint” systems as required by 2004 federal crash standards. With MR fluid, seatbelt retractors and air bags could deploy with varying degrees of force based on the seating position, weight and size of a passenger. The fluid would act within milliseconds based on information from occupant sensors in the vehicle.

“You can use MR fluid to dissipate energy in the cabin during a crash,” says Lord sales manager Lynn Yanyo. She says Lord is in development of such systems with both safety restraint suppliers and auto makers, and that it also is working on collapsible steering columns that rely on MR fluid.