DETROIT – Navigation systems that detect inclement weather and adjust vehicle speed accordingly are on the horizon, says Kazuo Furukawa, president and director of Hitachi Ltd.

But not until well beyond 2010.

Speaking Tuesday at the Convergence 2006 Transportation Electronics Conference, Furukawa reveals Hitachi’s vision of total vehicle integration, which it labels IAS. Short for Information and Actuation System, it promises to enable features such as automatic vehicle response to real-time traffic and weather conditions, but not until by-wire technologies proliferate further.

Such advancement will occur as components such as sensors and control units are exploited more fully. This will enable Hitachi to tie into what it lists as the cornerstones of IAS:

  • Vehicle functions, such as acceleration, steering and braking.
  • Sensor technology, which monitors vehicle motion.
  • Data confirmation.

One obstacle that pushes the introduction of total vehicle integration into the next decade is infrastructure, Hitachi says. To achieve the supplier’s vision, there needs to be a highly developed digital network to allow vehicles to transmit and receive pertinent information about their environments.

In Japan, high-end vehicles are equipped to transmit a warning signal if they have broken down. This enables other motorists to avoid potential hazards.

Furukawa also points to three “key” areas where automotive electronics have the most growth potential: information, environmental impact solutions and safety. Hitachi is devoting significant energy to the development of direct-injection gasoline engine technology in response to increasingly strict emissions standards, but safety shows particular promise, Furukawa suggests.

While auto makers have demonstrated superior capability to develop passive safety systems, Furukawa says auto makers are turning more to electronics to actuate brakes, seatbelts and other safety-related systems to prevent collisions or mitigate their impact on passengers.

“In the near future, we believe active safety will become more important,” he says, echoing a well-worn industry prediction.

And Furukawa is unfazed that safety and environmental impact are among the most highly regulated concerns facing the global auto industry. Does he see harmonization as a solution to resolve differences in regulatory requirements, from market to market?

“Practically, it is impossible,” he tells Ward’s. “The most advanced regulations are in the United States. If we meet the U.S. regulations, we can apply the technologies to other countries, even Japan. Therefore, we are focusing on the U.S. market.”

Ranking 23rd among the Fortune 500, Hitachi is an $80 billion company that makes more than 20,000 products.