Gentex Corporation (the Company) designs, develops, manufactures and markets proprietary products employing electro-optic technology: automatic-dimming rearview automotive mirrors with electronic features and fire protection products. The Company also developed and manufactures variable dimmable windows for the aircraft industry and non-automatic-dimming rearview automotive mirrors with electronic features.
The Company was organized as a Michigan company in 1974 to manufacture residential smoke detectors, a product line that has since evolved into a more sophisticated group of fire protection products primarily for the commercial building industry. In 1982, the Company introduced an automatic interior rearview mirror that was the first commercially successful glare-control product offered as an alternative to the conventional, manual day/night mirror. In 1987, the Company introduced its interior electrochromic (auto-dimming) mirror, providing the first successful commercial application of electrochromic (EC) technology in the automotive industry and world. Through the use of electrochromic technology, this mirror is continually variable and automatically darkens to the degree required to eliminate rearview mirror headlight glare. In 1991, the Company introduced its exterior electrochromic sub-assembly, which works as a complete glare-control system with the interior auto-dimming mirror. In 1997, the Company began making volume shipments of three new exterior mirror sub-assembly products: thin glass flat, convex and aspheric.
Narrative Description of Business
The Company currently manufactures electro-optic products, including automatic-dimming rearview mirrors for the automotive industry and fire protection products primarily for the commercial building industry. The Company also manufactures variable dimmable windows for the aircraft industry and non automatic-dimming rearview automotive mirrors with electronic features for the automotive industry.
Automatic-Dimming Rearview Mirrors
Interior Auto-Dimming Mirrors. In 1987, the Company achieved a significant technological breakthrough by applying electrochromic technology to the glare-sensing capabilities of its Motorized Mirror. Through the use of this technology, the mirror gradually darkens to the degree necessary to eliminate rearview glare from following vehicle headlights. The interior auto-dimming mirror offers all of the continuous reflectance levels between its approximate 87% full-reflectance state and its 7% least-reflectance state, taking just a few seconds to span the entire range. Special electro-optic sensors in the mirror detect glare and electronic circuitry supplies electricity to darken the mirror to only the precise level required to eliminate glare, allowing the driver to maintain maximum vision. This is accomplished by the utilization of two layers of precision glass with special conductive coatings that are separated by the Company’s proprietary electrochromic materials. When the appropriate light differential is detected by the sensors, an electric current causes the elctrochromic material to darken, decreasing the mirror’s reflectance, thereby eliminating glare.
Exterior Auto-Dimming Mirror Sub-Assemblies. The Company has devoted substantial research and development efforts to the development of its electrochromic technology to permit its use in exterior rearview mirrors. Exterior auto-dimming mirrors are controlled by the sensors and electronic circuitry in the interior auto-dimming mirror, and both the interior and exterior mirrors dim simultaneously. During 1991, the Company’s efforts culminated in a design that is intended to provide acceptable long-term performance in all automotive environments likely to be encountered. In 1994, the Company began shipments of its complete three-mirror system, including the convex (curved glass) wide-angle auto-dimming mirror to BMW. During 1997, the Company began making volume shipments of additional new exterior mirror products: thin glass flat and aspheric mirrors. During 2001 and 2002, the Company began making shipments of the world’s first exterior automatic-dimming mirrors with built-in turn-signal indicators to Southeast Toyota and General Motors. The Company currently offers its exterior auto-dimming mirrors with turn-signal indicators and side blind zone features. The Company currently sells its exterior auto-dimming mirror sub-assemblies to exterior mirror suppliers of the automakers who assemble the exterior auto-dimming mirror sub-assemblies into full mirror units for subsequent resale to the automakers.
Non-Automatic-Dimming Rearview Mirrors.
In 2007, the Company began shipping non-auto-dimming exterior mirrors with electronic features (i.e. side blind zone indicators) in low volume. During 2009, unit shipments for non-auto-dimming exterior mirrors with electronic features continued in low volume.
Automotive Mirrors Product Development. The Company plans to continue introducing additional advanced-feature auto-dimming mirrors. Advanced-feature auto-dimming mirrors currently being offered by the Company include the auto-dimming headlamp control mirror, the auto-dimming lighted mirror with LED map lamps, the auto-dimming compass mirror, the auto-dimming mirror with remote keyless entry, the auto-dimming compass/temperature mirror, the auto-dimming dual display compass/temperature mirror, auto-dimming telematics mirrors and the auto-dimming HomeLink® mirror. During 2001, the Company announced a revolutionary new proprietary technology, called SmartBeam®, that uses a custom, active-pixel, CMOS sensor, and maximizes a driver’s forward vision by significantly improving utilization of the vehicle’s high-beam headlamps during nighttime driving. During 2004, the Company began shipping auto-dimming mirrors with SmartBeam®, its proprietary intelligent high-beam headlamp control feature. The Company is currently shipping auto-dimming mirrors with SmartBeam® for 33 vehicle models.
Automotive Mirrors Markets and Marketing. In North America, the Company markets its products primarily through a direct sales force. The Company generally supplies auto-dimming mirrors to its customers worldwide under annual blanket purchase orders. The Company currently supplies auto-dimming mirrors to General Motors Corporation and Chrysler LLC under long-term agreements, entered into in the ordinary course of business. During 2005, the Company negotiated an extension to its long-term agreement for inside mirrors with General Motors in the ordinary course of the Company’s business. Under the extension, Gentex was sourced virtually all of the interior auto-dimming rearview mirror programs for GM and its worldwide affiliates through August 2009, except for two low-volume models that had previously been awarded to a Gentex competitor under a lifetime contract. The new business included the GMT360 program (which is the mid-size truck/SUV platform that previously did not offer auto-dimming mirrors). During 2008, the Company negotiated another extension to the existing agreement, through August 1, 2012, in the ordinary course of the Company’s business. GM intends to honor its existing agreements with the Company despite their Chapter 11 Bankruptcy filing in June 2009.
Automotive Mirrors Competition. The Company continues to be the leading producer of auto-dimming rearview mirrors in the world and currently is the dominant supplier to the automotive industry with an approximate 83% market share worldwide in 2009 and 2008. While the Company believes it will retain a dominant position in auto-dimming rearview mirrors for some time, one other U.S. manufacturer (Magna Mirrors) is competing for sales to domestic and foreign vehicle manufacturers and is supplying a number of domestic and foreign vehicle models with its hybrid or solid polymer matrix versions of electrochromic mirrors. In addition, two Japanese manufacturers are currently supplying a few vehicle models in Japan with solid-state electrochromic mirrors.
Fire Protection Products
The Company manufactures approximately 60 different models of smoke alarms and smoke detectors, combined with over 150 different models of signaling appliances. All the smoke detectors/alarms operate on a photoelectric principle to detect smoke. While the use of photoelectric technology entails greater manufacturing costs, the Company believes that these detectors/alarms are superior in performance to competitive devices that operate through an ionization process, and are preferred in most commercial residential occupancies. Photoelectric detectors/alarms feature low light-level detection, while ionization detectors utilize an ionized atmosphere, the electrical conductivity of which varies with changes in the composition of the atmosphere. Photoelectric detectors/alarms are widely recognized to respond more quickly to slow, smoldering fires, a common form of dwelling unit fire and a frequent cause of fire-related deaths. In addition, photoelectric detectors are less prone to nuisance alarms and do not require the use of radioactive materials necessary for ionization detectors. Photoelectric smoke detectors/alarms are now being required by over a dozen major cities, over a dozen states, as well as regional and national building and fire alarm codes.