PARIS -- PSA/Peugeot-Citroen has introduced an emergency-call function in its cars that it says could save hundreds of lives a year.
The free SOS feature is part of PSA's latest satellite navigation system, which is called RT3 on Peugeot cars and Navidrive on Citroen models. It includes a safety button on the dashboard, which, when pressed, connects a car's occupants with a 24-hour call center.
Other carmakers have offered the emergency-call service as part of their navigation systems, but have charged monthly fees for it.
PSA is using safety and emissions-reducing features such as particulate filters and stop-start systems to try to gain a competitive advantage.
PSA's new-car sales in Europe fell 2.6 percent in the first half to 1,128,774 units compared with the same period last year, according to ACEA, the European car manufacturers association. During the same period, PSA's market share fell to 14.4 percent from 15.3 percent .
All Citroen cars except the entry-level C2 can be fitted with PSA's navigation system. Nearly all Peugeot cars can have it, including the future 1007 small car.
Italian supplier Magneti Marelli makes PSA's navigation system, which costs E1,400 to E2,200.
PSA has sold a combined 23,000 Peugeot and Citroen vehicles with the emergency call function in the last 18 months. It claims to be the world's first automaker to introduce the call service on the mass market.
PSA rival Renault's attempt to launch an emergency call function in its cars failed because car buyers did not want pay extra for the system. General Motors has had a similar problem with its emergency system.
Insurer link saved costs
Without being specific, Marc Duval-Destin, head of PSA's tele-matics division, says the carmaker has "managed to contain costs" and make the call system economically viable by linking with an insurer that specializes in emergency services.
But the service may not remain free. "We are considering whether to charge a fee," Duval-Destin says.
French insurance company IMA operates emergency call centers in several European countries for PSA.
There have been 85 calls to the call centers since the new satellite navigation system was fitted in the automakers' models.
When contacted, call center operators alert the emergency services nearest to the accident scene.
About 5,000 people die each year in car accidents on French roads. About 5 percent of the victims could have survived if they had been rescued in time, according to statistics from LAB, a Paris-based road safety research organization co-financed by PSA and Renault.
"An emergency call could save between 200 and 300 lives a year," said Herve Guillemot, who runs LAB. "This system will be particularly useful by night in the middle of nowhere."
Renault says it is working on a similar system that would be triggered by the deployment of a car's airbags, but the carmaker says the system would not be ready for several months.
Renault launched an emergency call system in 1998, but abandoned it 18 months later because customers were not willing to pay a one-time charge of E595 and a monthly fee of E14.50.