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Dorel to tap race-car technology for child car seats

A Ferrari Formula One car

SERGIO PEREZ/REUTERS

Dorel Industries Inc. is looking to rev up its business with new child car seats that use impact-absorbing materials and technology borrowed from the world of professional race-car driving.

Montreal-based Dorel is partnering with racing gear provider Bald Spot Sports of Indiana in a joint research venture to develop new, safer configurations and materials for child car seats.

The companies will research materials and designs similar to those used in Formula 1 and IndyCar cockpit crash protection, according to an announcement expected to be made Thursday at Dorel's annual meeting.

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Dorel could use some new-product development to help boost its performance.

It posted an 18-per-cent drop in first-quarter profit earlier this month, missing analysts' expectations in a still-difficult retail environment made worse by rising gasoline and food prices that have hit consumers' pocketbooks.

The company operates in three key consumer segments: bicycles, juvenile products and home furnishings. The bicycle business did well in the first quarter but that was offset by a "challenging retail environment" for the U.S. juvenile products division, Dorel chief executive officer Martin Schwartz said about the results.

The car-seat safety research is to be conducted at Dorel subsidiary Dorel Juvenile Group USA's new technical centre for child safety located at its car-seat manufacturing facility in Columbus, Ind.

Engineers from Dorel Juvenile will draw on Bald Spot's motorsport safety research and development background to figure out the best way to integrate the company's proprietary technology and race-car cockpit crash materials into child car seats, according to Dorel.

Bald Spot makes seats for professional race car drivers and enthusiasts. It uses a specially designed foam material that surrounds the driver and holds him or her in place during impact, thus reducing the likelihood of injury.

Among Bald Spot products users are IndyCar and NASCAR Nationwide motorsport drivers.

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Of particular interest to Dorel is the potential for Bald Spot's foam material to absorb dangerous side-impact forces, the company said.

The move follows Dorel's announcement this month of a new child booster seat - the S1 Rumi Air - that features an extra layer of protection and an internal truss design to better distribute the force of impact from collisions.

Building a new generation of child car seats is a key element in Dorel Juvenile Group USA's growth strategy.

Dorel, the world's largest maker of children's car seats, has also been taking steps to expand outside North America.

Two years ago, it entered the Brazilian market with a car-seat subsidiary to tap into the emergence of a large middle class as well as legislation mandating the safety equipment for vehicles.

The company's juvenile brands include Cosco, Eddie Bauer, Safety 1st, Maxi-Cosi, Quinny and Lux. Besides infant and child car seats, it distributes a wide range of products, such as cribs, high chairs and nursery monitors.

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Dorel is also expected to announce a new environmentally friendly bicycle, the Schwinn Vestige: The frame is made from biodegradable flax fibres, the fenders are bamboo and the paint is water-soluble.

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About the Author
Quebec Business Correspondent

Bertrand has been covering Quebec business and finance since 2000. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2000, he was the Toronto-based national business correspondent for Southam News. He has a B.A. from McGill University and a Bachelor of Applied Arts from Ryerson. More

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