Cutting Edge Companies: Amerigon

By Heidi Vanni, CFA
From the Summer 2011 Edition of Values

Attention summer drivers: Stay cool, save a penny, protect the planet.

Incorporated in 1991, and headquartered in Northville, Michigan, Amerigon designs advanced thermoelectric device (TED) technologies for various heating and cooling applications. Its principal product is the Climate Control Seat® (CCS), a cooled/heated seat sold to automotive and truck manufacturers. The technology cools a hot seat in the summer and warms a cold seat in the winter. Most importantly, by heating or cooling only a section of the vehicle, the CCS has efficiency benefits relative to traditional heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Instead of cooling an entire vehicle when not all seats are occupied, a zonal approach to heating and cooling can save fuel and increase range.

Traditional air conditioning systems account for a large percentage of vehicle fuel use, cutting fuel economy by up to 20 percent. According to research conducted in 2005 by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, using a ventilated seat can reduce the need for air conditioning by 4 percent, which translates to annual U.S. fuel savings of approximately 250 million gallons of gasoline.

In addition to fuel savings, “turning down” the air reduces tailpipe emissions. The engine does not need to be running to drive a compressor as required with a conventional air conditioning system. Because of this, TEDs can accommodate emission and fuel-saving features such as turning engines off during portions of the drive cycle. This feature makes TEDs compatible with hybrid vehicles. In 2010, Amerigon partnered with Mattress Firm to launch the first heated/cooled mattress line. Similar to CCS in the automobile, Amerigon’s heat and cool mattress, the Climate Control Sleep System, was developed to provide all-season comfort in one’s bedroom. Heating and cooling a home accounts for approximately 45 percent of a household’s annual energy usage. Instead of heating and cooling the entire house or room, providing temperature control only where it is needed (i.e. the bed) has potential cost savings.

With gas prices near $4 per gallon, fuel economy is top of mind for consumers. Amerigon’s cooled/heated seats represent a technology that has meaningful efficiency benefits. The CCS is offered on 54 car and truck models and if past trends persist, automobile manufacturers will increasingly incorporate this feature into vehicles. Setting the air conditioner at “full blast” may soon become a thing of the past.

This information should not be considered investment advice or a recommendation to buy or sell any particular security.