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Breaking the Bank
Precrash systems are available now for a hefty price

By JAMES B. TREECE | AUTOMOTIVE NEWS

AutoWeek | Published 03/13/06, 1:04 pm et


TOKYO -- Devices that extend a driver's sight and other senses are already creeping into the showroom.

But the features are expensive, and available only on luxury vehicles. Don't expect that to change soon.

The Infiniti FX and M45 offer lane-departure systems, which use cameras mounted on the outside mirrors to monitor lane markers (i.e., lines) on the road. If the vehicle wanders into an adjacent lane, the device sounds an alarm, vibrates the steering wheel, and finally edges the vehicle back into its lane. It is available as part of a $4,200 "technology package" option.

The Lexus LX 470 SUV offers a night-vision system in the United States. It uses infrared cameras to detect people, deer or other heat-generating objects in the road ahead, and then projects their image onto the lower front windshield. It is a $2,200 option. Lexus would not say what percentage of LX buyers order the option.

Cadillac dropped a similar system in September 2004 after customers rejected its $2,250 price tag. Early sales of the device on the 2000 DeVille were strong, but declined every year thereafter. Only 600 were sold in the 2004 model year.

The 2007 BMW 5 series will offer night vision for $2,200.

So-called precrash systems are available in the Lexus LS and IS, Acura RL, Infiniti QX56 and Mercedes-Benz S class. They use radar and speed sensors to determine when a front-end collision is imminent. The next-generation LS, due in the fall, will add a system for when a following vehicle is about to rear-end the car.

When they sense an impending accident, these systems tighten the seat belts to position occupants for optimal airbag deployment and boost the brake pressure to amplify any braking by the driver. Some systems will also apply the brakes if the driver doesn't -- not enough to prevent the crash, but enough to lessen the damage and injuries. In the case of a rear-end collision, the car adjusts the headrests to reduce the risk of whiplash.

To get the current system, buyers must choose option packages totaling $10,285 on the Lexus LS and $2,000 on the Infiniti QX56. Buyers of the Lexus IS can add the system alone for $2,850. Acura buyers get it as standard on the top-of-the-line $53,715 RL.

Acura acknowledges that the RL is not meeting sales expectations, but say it's unfair to single out the extra cost of the crash-avoidance system. Dealers are lobbying for a lower-priced model of the Acura flagship
 
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