September 18, 2015 / 6:30 PM / 4 years ago

Gentex transforms rear-view mirror into high-tech vision system

DETROIT (Reuters) - Gentex Corp is broadening its role from a traditional Michigan-based auto parts maker to a supplier of high-tech vision systems that eventually could be integrated into self-driving cars.

General Motors Co will be the first automaker to use a new rear-view mirror developed by Gentex, on the 2016 Cadillac CT6 sedan. The car goes on sale early next year and the mirror will be offered at extra cost.

At the flip of a switch, the full display mirror converts into a video display that provides a panoramic view behind the vehicle.

Called the Gentex Full Display Mirror, it incorporates a rear camera and software that transforms a prosaic piece of hardware into a platform for more advanced safety technology, marketing director Craig Piersma said.

Piersma said BMW would be the next automaker after GM to use the Gentex mirror, but declined to specify on which model. BMW declined to comment.

While relatively young tech-focused suppliers such as Mobileye NV have become investor favorites as the auto industry ramps up development of advanced driver assistance systems - the building blocks for future self-driving cars - Gentex has quietly been turning out 30 million rear-view mirrors a year.

Founded in 1974, Gentex is one of the world’s largest suppliers of auto-dimming automotive mirrors, but it also has steadily beefed up its capability as an electronics manufacturer, expanding its expertise in cameras and displays.

Among its products is the camera-based SmartBeam system that automatically switches headlamps from high to low beam. It also provides collision and lane departure warnings and vehicle and pedestrian detection.

Gentex will focus its technology development around the rear-view mirror. “We don’t compete with Mobileye,” Piersma said. He said Gentex works with vehicle manufacturers and other suppliers to tailor its mirrors and displays for specific vehicles.

Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit; Editing by Grant McCool

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