DETROIT – Further reflecting a supply base that must expand to meet automaker demand, Denso is well ahead of its plan to create more than 2,000 new jobs in North America and will expand its U.S. headquarters in Southfield, MI, to bolster product-development activities across the company’s portfolio.

A year ago, the Japan-based supplier said it would invest more than $1 billion and add the 2,000 jobs over a 4-year period ending in 2016.

But Denso already has added 1,100 of the 1,200 new U.S. jobs originally planned, and the number of new positions domestically likely will balloon to about 1,800, Terry Helgesen, senior vice president-industry and government affairs for Denso International America, tells WardsAuto during the North American International Auto Show here.

“As you can see, we are committed to the North American market – the most competitive and challenging market in the world,” Helgesen says at Denso’s press conference. “No one would have said this five years ago, but it’s a great time to be in the auto industry.”

In Southfield, Denso is spending $10 million to purchase a neighboring 3-story building to join the current campus of four facilities. The investment also will cover renovation of ground-floor space to be used as laboratories. Engineers will occupy the other two floors, Helgesen says.

The current plan is for the new 81,000-sq.-ft. (2,293-sq.-m) building to employ 176 people. To date, 60 have been hired, and the remaining 116 will be added within the next two years, he says.

Helgesen says the new testing facilities will be occupied by June and will support development of components for hybrid-electric vehicles, gasoline direct injection, high-output alternators, infotainment and connectivity systems and more-efficient vehicle air conditioning.

On the manufacturing side, Denso says it is investing an extra $55 million and adding 130 jobs at its GDI assembly lines in Athens, TN, on top of the 130 jobs announced last year to localize GDI assembly. Some 400 new jobs are being added in Mexico.

In April, Denso will open a new shipping plant warehouse in Montgomery, AL, to support delivery of climate-control systems to North American customers. That investment equals $2.2 million, Helgesen says.

Overall headcount has grown by 640 jobs in Tennessee, 425 in Michigan and 50 in California, the supplier says. Denso employs 11,000 people in the U.S. and 17,000 across North America.

Also at NAIAS, the supplier announces a new research consortium targeting distracted driving, dubbed Advanced Human Factors Evaluator for Automotive Distraction (AHEAD).

Partners include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab, Touchstone

Evaluations, Honda R&D Americas, Subaru Research & Development and

Jaguar Land Rover.

The goal is to take a fresh look at methods to reliably and repeatedly assess the demands associated with in-vehicle interactions and human-machine interface technologies.

Driver distraction already has been studied exhaustively, but Denso says evaluation methods to date have not adequately targeted vision, touch, sound, haptics, gesture and

cognition in a holistic way.

The project allows Denso, which is partially owned by Toyota, to interact more closely with Toyota rivals such as Honda and Subaru.

“We’ve always had a lot of relationships with other OEMs, but they’ve been overshadowed,” says Helgesen, adding the research initiative is open to other automakers.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com