STUTTGART - Advanced Mercedes-Benz technical innovations ranging from accident-sensing systems to stability control and drive-by-wire are unlikely to be widely installed on Chrysler group vehicles anytime soon, senior DaimlerChrysler executives acknowledge.
Although DaimlerChrysler is anxious to share the new Mercedes technologies, executives emphasize, the systems are considered too expensive for value-conscious Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge buyers. To work, the technologies also need a level of electronic sophistication not present on today's Chrysler group vehicles.
"Before you take the next step with these technologies, there has to be a legitimate market demand, and you have to know what people are willing to pay for it," said Bernard Robertson, the Chrysler group's senior vice president of engineering technologies and regulatory affairs.
The technologies include an accident-sensing system that activates safety systems before a crash and a sensor- and computer-driven braking system. Also on the table for sharing: Mercedes-Benz's proprietary electronic stability program, which is expected to be offered on Chrysler's LX rear-wheel-drive large cars due in the 2005 model year.
"This has never been offered to anyone until now," said Rudiger Grube, deputy board member for corporate development, at a two-day technical conference here this month.
Robertson points to antilock brakes as an example of how price resistance blocks new technology in a volume segment.
Because Chrysler customers aren't willing to pay for the feature, he said, antilock brakes are installed on only 30 percent to 35 percent of Chrysler vehicles. That compares with 100 percent penetration for Mercedes vehicles.
As an option, antilock brakes cost $600 on the Dodge Intrepid.
The low penetration for antilock brakes is significant for another reason. Without them, Chrysler can't put more advanced electronic stability control or electronic throttle control onto its vehicles.
"None of these systems can simply be taken off the shelf and added on," Robertson said.
"There is a significant development challenge. You need to add several sensors, and then you add stability control. Then you face the additional development cost of tailoring each technology to the Chrysler product."
The access to a wider range of technology "doesn't change the necessity of making a business case that the customer will recognize these features and pay for them," Robertson said.
That reality will keep the Pre-Safe accident sensing system off the upcoming generation of Chrysler vehicles, said Rodolfo Schoenburg, DaimlerChrysler's director of passenger car safety functions. It will debut this fall on the Mercedes S class.
Schoenburg said the system activates seat-belt tensioners, shuts the sunroof and adjusts the seats to prevent submarining when the braking and stability control systems sense an impending accident.
In nearly 75 percent of all severe lateral crashes, he said, a vehicle skids for up to several seconds before impact. Because airbags and seat-belt tensioners normally don't activate until impact, the Mercedes system provides an additional safety margin by preparing the cabin for a crash a few seconds ahead of impact.
Schoenburg said another intelligent safety system has debuted on the new Mercedes E class. The occupant classification system uses a sensor in the mat to assess the weight of the passenger and then sends data to the central airbag control unit.
Using additional data when an accident occurs, the system will activate the airbag at the correct force level for the passenger's weight, or not activate it if it sensed a child is in the seat.
All great technology, but the market has to be willing to pay for it, Robertson reiterated.
"The fundamental challenge that we have in the U.S. is the marketplace has to be willing to give you credit for the added value of the feature," he said.
"The marketplace is extremely competitive, and there is massive pressure on costs everywhere. The challenge is whether each feature or element of content is of sufficient value."