What would happen if auto shows were put on by suppliers? An automaker executive would pull the veil off a new model and the public would ooh and aah as usual. A supplier executive would, in turn, peel the skin off the vehicle, point to his company's technology and the audience would roar its approval. Then the supplier wakes up.

The above scene may be a dream right now for suppliers, but with more Tier 1s taking responsibility for component and system development, there is growing recognition during new-model launches for their high-tech contributions.

It's not universal, however. For many reasons, including potential labor unrest over "sourcing" issues, there's a lingering trend to downplay suppliers' roles.

Having said that, WAW slips the sheet metal off of a few 1997 models to explore supplier contributions.

1997 Cadillacs with the Northstar system feature Stabilitrak, a stability-enhancement system designed to make vehicle handling more predictable and consistent. Two of its key elements are a steering-wheel angle sensor and a yaw-rate sensor from BEI Sensors & Systems Co.

Data from the steering-angle sensor and the yaw-rate sensor are fed into an electronic control unit (ECU) that compares what the driver wants to do (via steering-wheel position) and what the vehicle is actually doing (via the yaw sensor). Using that data (as well as data from the antilock braking system's wheel-speed sensors), torque is reduced and individual brakes are automatically applied to keep the car on the intended path.

The BEI GyroChip yaw-rate sensor, installed under the car's parcel shelf, is derived from technology used for more than a decade in Boeing 777 airliner and missile guidance systems. It is a microminiature, double-ended quartz tuning fork and supporting structure, all fabricated chemically from a single wafer of monocrystalline piezoelectric quartz (not unlike quartz watch crystals) that measures the car's rate of rotation.

The steering-angle sensor sits on the steering column and combines analog and digital technology. The analog, or voltage-based, element senses steering wheel position with a thick-film potentiometric sensor.

"We really see this as a growing market," says Gregg Stokely, BEI's vice president of commercial marketing. "It won't grow as fast as air bags, maybe at the same rate as ABS."

One of the much-heralded additions to the 1997 lineup is General Motors Corp.'s redesigned trio of minivans. It has several noteworthy supplier contributions, including the first automotive application of a foam-backed carpet system using surface modification technology (SMT) from Foamex International Inc.

The technology, originally developed for the medical, furniture, bedding and carpet industries, carves a single piece of foam to match the three-dimensional pattern of the minivan's floor pan.

"SMT is a continuous cutting operation that sculpts out key configurations on the surface of a panel of flexible slabstock polyurethane," explains Vinnie Bonaddio, Foamex's director of applications development.

Other vehicles use layers of "shoddy" or polyurethane pieces that are molded and placed under the carpet. Foamex sends the sculpted foam to JPS Automotive, which sticks the carpeting to it and delivers a ready-to-install carpet system to GM.

Foamex says SMT gives a carpet system a better fit. Replacing "shoddy" with foam can reduce vehicle weight by 2 to 6 lbs. and reduce interior noise by four decibels.

Foamex also supplies headliner foam for Chrysler minivans, Ford Windstar and Mercury Villager and Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Siemens Automotive trots out a bevy of new technology for the 1997 model year. Heading the list is a side-impact sensor for Cadillac Catera's side air bag system. Unlike conventional accelerometers, which measure G forces, this sensor is housed in the car door and uses air pressure increase in the door cavity to detect an impact. It can trigger the air bag in 5 milliseconds.

The pressure sensor can be mounted anywhere on the frame inside the door. A silicon diaphragm breaks at a preset threshold of pressure and signals the air bag system ECU, which then triggers the side bag.

Other new sensor technologies from Siemens include an integrated child-seat presence, orientation and passenger-presence detection system on all Mercedes-Benz SLK roadsters sold in Europe and the U.S. Siemens says it expects all Mercedes models eventually will be equipped with the system.

Another Siemens contribution in 1997 is use of global positioning satellite (GPS) technology in Oldsmobile's Guidestar navigation system on Bravada and 88LSS models. Select Porsches come with the Siemens' IDIS (integrated driver information system) as an option. IDIS combines GPS navigation with stereo/ CD, HVAC controls and cellular telephone into a single unit that fits neatly into an instrument panel slot.

Siemens provides the mass air flow sensor on Mercedes, Renault and PSA vehicles. It improves engine management and emissions and is 40% smaller and 40% lighter than conventional MAF sensors, says a Siemens spokesman.

Jaguar boasts the industry's first plastic V-8 intake manifold with two fuel rails integrated into the body of the manifold. Supplied by Siemens, the integrated unit reduces cost and complexity and takes up less space.

Other suppliers with innovations and new products on '97 model vehicles:

* TRW- A single-point crash sensor, on a European-built model sold worldwide, that can sense and discriminate front, side and rear-impacts all from one location in the vehicle. This sensor eliminates the need for satellite side-impact sensors. A vehicle immobilizing system that uses a key fob-based transmitter as a primary immobilizer and a transponder (also in the key fob), working in parallel as a secondary immobilizer that can be set at a different frequency, is on a U.S.-made model.

* 3M Corp. -- Cabin air filters for GM minivans, and cabin air filters and Thinsulate acoustic insulation for Ford's F-150 pickup.

* Lucas Industries Inc. -- Two sets of HVAC controls for GM's minivans, one mounted overhead and one on the center console, which can control as many as 13 functions.

Lucas also supplies HVAC controls for Chrysler's LH and JA platforms. The optional LH automatic temperature-control panel has digital readout and a "set-it, forget-it" feature that works with actuators and sun sensors to ensure passenger comfort.

Lucas also supplies the Chevy Malibu/ Olds Cutlass platform with a column-mounted dual stalk switch. The left hand stalk has headlamp and turn signal switches while the right hand stalk controls the windshield wipers.

* Becker Group -- Door panels for the Chevrolet Malibu and Olds Cutlass, which were designed and engineered by Becker's Megatech Engineering (jointly with GM). Becker also designed and built the tools and assembly equipment, and manufactures the door panels in various trim levels.

* AE Goetze -- Piston rings for the Malibu/Cutlass models equipped with 2.2L and 3.1L engines, Ford F-Series, Econolines and Expeditions and Toyota Avalons and Camrys with 3L V-6 engines. The company also supplies pistons for Lincoln Town Car, Pontiac Grand Prix with Series H power, and Olds Intrigue with 3.8L DOHC power.