Lear Corp. is marking the one-year anniversary of its acquisition of UT Automotive in grand style.

This month, the company opens its Lear Electronic and Electrical Division (LEED) in Dearborn, MI, aimed at a new discipline - "intertronics," the meshing of, you guessed it, interiors and electronics.

Lear invested $2 million to expand and upgrade the LEED headquarters, most of which was spent in the new product development area located on the facility's first floor. The sprawling 20-year-old complex, which was UT Automotive's home prior to the Lear buyout, now includes some 70,000 sq. ft. (6,300 sq.m) of lab space for 700 LEED workers.

"With this acquisition, Lear now has two of the best pieces of real estate in the vehicle: The entire interior and the electronic and electrical distribution system - or EEDS, as we call it," says LEED president D. William Pumphrey.

Understanding that system and how to optimize it will be LEED's core competency. Mr. Pumphrey says the facility also will be dedicated to advances in wireless systems as well as the fusion of interior components and electronic technology.

New intertronic products that LEED will unveil this month include two remote keyless entry (RKE) systems. One is a "dual range/dual function" RKE with a standard unlocking feature and a locating feature, which flashes lights on the vehicle from up to 100 ft. (30m) away.

A second system incorporates the same active/passive key head fob with an immobilizer feature that can disable a stolen vehicle.

LEED also will take the wraps off a tire pressure warning system that integrates radio-frequency (RF) technology with existing RKE systems. A sensor on each wheel monitors tire conditions and can inform the driver of any changes in tire pressure.

Mr. Pumphrey says LEED also will unveil a working prototype of a "multiplexed, multifunction turn-signal switch," the result of its recent technical collaboration with Panasonic in Japan. The switch could be in vehicles as early as two years from now, Mr. Pumphrey says.

LEED's new product development center will further expand Lear's RF testing capabilities, a technology in which the supplier claims a leadership position.

Lear's chief rival, Johnson Controls Inc., recently opened its own state-of-the-art RF testing facility at its Holland, MI, technical center (see WAW - Feb. '00, p.67).

LEED's center has a rapid prototype area, where a variety of methods are used to build prototypes in anywhere from four hours to three days, and a so-called "green room," a materials engineering unit where the emphasis is on utilizing environmentally friendly processes and recyclable materials.

Meanwhile, an electromechanical and switches area focuses on the look and feel of vehicle components. Paul J. Ebaugh, vice president-core engineering at LEED, says the unit solves the dilemma of OEM customers who require parts that "feel like a Lexus, but cost like a Neon."

Since the Lear/UTA marriage, Mr. Pumphrey says LEED has won "significant" new business awards with DaimlerChrysler Corp. to supply the electrical distribution systems in two 2004 vehicles. He says the division also has won a variety of new business from General Motors Corp., BMW AG and Ford Motor Co. for key complete interior systems that will have substantial electrical integration.

With broader capabilities, Mr. Pumphrey says the expanded LEED facility will continue to be the North American hub of electrical integration in the future. "As the Lear portfolio of products continues to grow, the amount of activity at this facility will grow through acquisitions, partnerships and joint ventures," he says.