DETROIT - Carmakers have seen the light: Cadillac's Night Vision system is too good to ignore.
Eight automakers will have the heat-sensing vision system installed on their luxury cars by the 2004 model year, said Stuart Klapper, director of automotive programs for Raytheon Co.'s Commercial Electronics division. The system has been available since the 2000 model year, only on the Cadillac DeVille.
Cadillac forecast sales of 3,500 units in 2000, but when the system became available it asked Raytheon to quadruple production. Raytheon closed out 2000 with 7,000 delivered; Cadillac dealers were scrambling for more.
Klapper said Raytheon will produce about 15,000 Night Vision systems for Cadillac this year.
Night Vision is a small camera in the grille that picks up infrared heat from objects as far as 500 yards ahead of the vehicle. The camera's view is projected onto the lower portion of the DeVille's windshield with a head-up display, with hotter objects looking brighter in the picture. It can detect objects through fog, giving drivers more time to react to potentially dangerous situations. It adds about $2,000 to the cost of the DeVille.
'Every major automaker in the world has started some kind of action with Night Vision,' Klapper said Monday, March 5, at the SAE World Congress. He said automakers were determining how to package it in their vehicles as well as working with Raytheon to customize the system for their brands.
One manufacturer has asked that Raytheon develop a version of Night Vision that would move with the steering wheel. Others are looking at different ways to incorporate the display.
Klapper declined to name the manufacturers Raytheon has signed, but he did say the next vehicle equipped with Night Vision would be on the road within a year and that it would be a luxury car.
The good news for consumers is that as soon as Raytheon gets into high-volume production of Night Vision, the cost should come down, possibly to about $1,000 to $1,200, said Gary Finley, a marketing manager for Raytheon.
Night Vision popular
Not only will the system cost less, but it will perform better and be less prone to damage. Raytheon has been quizzing Cadillac customers about the performance of the system by forming focus groups, mailing surveys and visiting dealers.
'Thirty-five percent said they bought the DeVille because it was the only car that had Night Vision. And a majority of those people said they would not buy another car without it,' Klapper said. 'They feel it is an absolute necessity.'
Apparently, so does the Secret Service. Raytheon equipped six new limousines for President Bush with Night Vision.
Cadillac says it will make Night Vision optional across its line in the next five years. Raytheon says its upcoming versions of Night Vision will have cameras that can see farther ahead and project a clearer picture.
Klapper said Raytheon, a defense contractor, has barely tapped Night Vision's potential. He compared current versions to a 1950s TV set.
Asked how Raytheon might improve the system, Klapper said: 'We have many defense technologies to pick from.'