Hyundai's safety tech video shows what a sales pitch can't

In the Hyundai Genesis video demonstrating the car's adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist system, stunt drivers climb out of the cars and leap to a flatbed truck.

The biggest problem with selling consumers on the idea of active safety technologies is that unless you experience what happens when they intervene, it’s hard to fully appreciate their potential.

Automatic braking systems, for example, are triggered only before a potential crash. Short of having a near miss during a test drive at a dealership -- which hopefully doesn’t happen too often -- consumers may have a hard time believing these technologies are worth the extra expense, or even reliable, from a sales pitch alone.

So Hyundai went to extremes.

Hyundai’s global marketing team just posted a video showing a caravan of 2015 Genesis sedans circling the massive oval test track surrounding Hyundai’s 4,300-acre proving grounds in California’s arid Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles.

Each car is piloted by stunt drivers who, after engaging the Genesis adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist system, climb out of the speeding cars from the sunroof and leap, one by one, onto a flatbed truck driving alongside, leaving the cars “driverless.”

One driver remains in the lead car as a guide for the sedans that follow it around the track. The result is a smooth, evenly spaced convoy of vehicles, all staying in their lanes with the aid of lane-keeping assistance and adaptive cruise, and elegantly set to the Blue Danube Waltz. (For the demo, Hyundai modified the lane-keeping assist to stay on; typically, the system shuts off after a few seconds without a driver’s hands on the wheel.)

But the sales pitch isn’t done. The lead driver then blindfolds himself and crosses his arms across his chest in a brace position as his car follows the truck, which then screeches to a stop.

What happens next will give viewers the kind of heart-speeding jolt that you get from a near-miss on the road. It’s both terrifying and reassuring.

Hats off to Hyundai. It’s a very cool, compelling demonstration of these new technologies, so much so that the fine folks over at Jalopnik picked up the video, likening it to the iconic climax scene of 1990s action movie Speed and describing it as the advertising equivalent of “using a bulldozer to build a sandcastle.”

The industry is buzzing about autonomous cars and the promise the technology holds to improve safety. But outside the industry, skepticism abounds. The most common question I get from friends about driverless cars and the various technologies that make them possible is some variation of “Does this stuff really work?”

Hyundai managed to show that the technologies that the industry offers right now can provide limited autonomous driving capability -- and quite possibly prevent what would otherwise be unpreventable accidents.

The video had clocked about 1.2 million views on YouTube as of Thursday morning, up from under 800,000 the day before. Whether it persuades people to buy a Genesis is an open question. But it should, at the least, convince some of the skeptics and uninitiated that driverless cars are a real possibility.

You can reach Ryan Beene at autonews@crain.com

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