DETROIT — Technology that saves lives – and fuel – is getting better and cheaper. That means it’s no longer confined to luxury brands such as Mercedes and Volvo. It’s showing up in mainstream vehicles such as the Nissan Rogue and Ford Fusion.
High-tech options can still cost a few thousand dollars more, but those costs will come down as technology improves and automakers add them to more vehicles.
Here are some up-and-coming features that drivers can expect on their next cars:
COLLISION WARNING WITH AUTOMATIC BRAKING
New cars have radar and camera systems that beep to warn of a possible front-end crash. Some even stop the vehicle, or at least slow it enough to make a crash less severe. More sophisticated systems apply the brakes if a car veers off the road and heads toward a moving or fixed object.
Mercedes, Honda, Toyota, Infiniti, Volvo and other brands offer automatic braking to avoid a collision; more automakers will follow soon. David Zuby, the chief research officer at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said collision warning systems alone reduced crashes by 7 percent in a study of insurance claims for several thousand Mercedes vehicles with the technologies.
With cameras getting smaller and cheaper, automakers aren’t just putting them on the back of the car anymore. Honda has side cameras that come on automatically when a turn signal is employed, so drivers can spot obstacles while turning. Nissan’s around-view monitor blends images from four cameras tucked in the mirrors and elsewhere around the car into a composite, bird’s-eye view to help the driver back out of a parking spot. Volvo and Subaru have front-mounted cameras that can apply brakes to avoid hitting pedestrians.
A camera can follow the road and gently nudge a car – using the brakes – to stay in the center of a lane. These systems are available on most Mercedes-Benz vehicles as well as the Ford Fusion, Ford Explorer, Toyota Prius, Lexus GS and Lincoln MKZ. However, they aren’t cheap.
Lane-keeping systems, which first appeared on commercial trucks a decade ago, sound a beep or vibrate the driver’s seat if a camera senses that a car is swerving out of its lane.
Audi, Mercedes, Acura, Mazda and others have “adaptive” headlights that swivel in the direction the car is going to help drivers see around corners as they turn. Many cars now have high-beam lights that sense oncoming traffic and dim automatically.
By 2025, new cars and trucks sold in the U.S. will have to average 54.5 miles per gallon of gasoline, up from the current 30.8 mpg. One feature will almost be a must-have: A “stop-start” device that shuts off the engine at a stop light and automatically turns it on when the driver releases the brake. Five percent of new U.S. cars have the systems as standard or optional equipment.