Back-up camera mandate could cover '14 models
WASHINGTON -- Safety advocates and industry lobbyists say the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration could be a few weeks from mandating back-up cameras in light vehicles -- by perhaps as early as the 2014 model year.
The final rule, part of a campaign against blind spots, would make automakers fit cameras and screens into more than just their luxury cars. For a model year with sales of 16.6 million units, for example, it would raise industry costs by as much as $2.7 billion, NHTSA estimates -- or an average of $163 per vehicle.
The agency proposed in 2010 to make rear-facing cameras a standard feature in cars and trucks, in line with a law Congress passed two years earlier to reduce the number of children backed over and killed. The agency estimates that back-up accidents involving light vehicles annually kill 228 people and injure 17,000.
The Obama administration delayed a final decision earlier this year, but groups such as the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers expect a final rule by Dec. 31, as Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood promised in letters to congressional leaders in February.
"Secretary LaHood has been pretty good about living up to his public comments, so I fully expect to see that in December," said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, an advocacy group.
A spokeswoman for NHTSA declined to comment and referred to LaHood's letters.
The final rule is still under White House review, as it has been since November 2011, according to an online government database that tracks regulations.
Analysts and automakers say they don't know of any major changes that regulators intend to make to the 2010 proposal, though some expect NHTSA to push back the original deadlines, which would require all new vehicles to have the cameras by September 2014.
"I don't think it could happen by 2014, so they will have to give some leeway," said Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the alliance.
The alliance asked NHTSA to think about letting automakers meet the requirements in some cases by redesigning mirrors to shrink blind spots.
Automakers say the new camera technology works well but mandating it could hurt customers who do not want to pay for additional safety features or screens.
Back-up cameras have been a fixture of upscale navigation packages for years, but automakers increasingly are adding them to some of their less expensive, best-selling models.
For the 2013 model year, Honda put standard back-up cameras in all of its light trucks and sedans, tripling the number of Honda nameplates with the standard feature to nine. Included is the redesigned Accord, the company's biggest launch of the year.
Across the industry, back-up cameras are standard or optional in 77 percent of 2013 model vehicles, according to Edmunds.com. That compares with just 32 percent of 2008 models. Congress passed the safety law in 2008.
For vehicles without cameras or screens, the new features would add up to $203 to the cost of a car, NHTSA says. That would expand the market for companies such as Magna International Inc. and Panasonic Corp., which sell camera modules to the auto industry.
Niall Lynam, chief technical officer at Magna's mirrors and electronics divisions, said the company has roughly one-third of the U.S. market for the cameras. Japanese electronics companies supply most of the rest.
Among the largest customers is Ford Motor Co. Ford, which buys all of its back-up cameras from Magna, says back-up cameras are available on 92 percent of its models. Another beneficiary of a mandate could be Gentex Corp. of Zeeland, Mich.
Gentex is one of two main suppliers of video-enabled rear-view mirrors, with Magna in a distant second place. The mirrors look ordinary until a driver goes into reverse, at which point a section of the mirror lights up and shows video from the rear camera.
Automakers are trying other approaches as well.
Audi has made cameras on all four sides of vehicles available on its the A6, S6, A8 and S8 cars. Those images are merged into a single, bird's-eye view of a car and its surroundings that can help a driver park or maneuver through tight spaces.
Lynam said: "The rear back-up camera is just the beginning."
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