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Aerospace Swords Into Plowshares : Defense Contractors Convert to Consumer Goods and Brush Up on Their Rusty Marketing Skills

August 05, 1993|TED JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Next Target: Consumers Southern California's defense contractors have launched commerical projects ranging from mass-transit trains to golf clubs. Among the efforts going on in the South Bay: Hughes Electric vehicle components: The Impact, the General Motors electric vehicle expected to hit the market in the new few years, includes Hughes' power inverter, which transforms battery energy into electricity. Hughes also developed easy-to-use charging stations, which can resupply batteries with energy in 20 minutes. The company is adapting defense technology to other sectors, such as satellite television and postal scanning systems. TRW Auto radar: The device, adapted from high-frequency military electronics, would warn motorists of blind spots and obstacles in the roadway. More advanced versions will detect oncoming vehicles and activate air bags before a collision. Aura TheaterSonics: An electro-magnetic speaker connects to a theater seat, giving viewers a greater sensation of the action ont he screen than conventional theaters because of lower distortion and greater bass out-put. The product is one of Aura's off shoots from technology it created for the Strategic Defense Initiative. Northrop Advanced technology bus: A lightweight, advanced technology bus would cut down on pollution because of its low exhaust emissions, includes some of the structural innovations Northrop used int he stealth bomber. The company is leading 18 other firms in the initial design of the vehicle. Job Losses The slumping economy has taken a huge toll on defense contractors based int he South Bay. In the last decade, employment has been hit hard. In thousands Aircraft manufacturing 1983: 6.9 1989: 15.5 1993: 10.1 Missiles and space vehicles 1983: 7.5 1989: 9.3 1993: 5.6 Instruments manufacturing 1983: 16.6 1989: 10.7 1993: 7.2 Sources: Stanley R. Hoffman Associates Inc.; Southern California Assn. of Goverments; California Employment Development Department

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