TOKYO -- Few automakers boast a CEO who can demonstrate his company's racing vehicles at speeds of 181 mph.
Honda Motor Co. is one of them.
On Tuesday, Takeo Fukui, CEO of Japan's third-biggest carmaker, pulled off a publicity stunt that had spectators applauding as he squeezed out of Honda's BARf-1 racing car after doing laps around the test track.
The demonstration at Honda's testing facilities in Tochigi, near Tokyo, is part of the automaker's attempt to shake off its association with plain old reliability in the United States while showing off its latest safety and green technology in an all-day presentation.
"Research and development is the most important focus for Honda," Fukui said. "The first element of that is making driving fun, and we will further strengthen that area as one of the unique characteristics that sets Honda apart."
As part of the event, Honda announced technology that sends a warning to a driver when two sensors under the headlights detect a pedestrian in the dark.
The so-called night vision technology, a world first, will be available as an option on the new Honda Legend luxury sedan, to be launched in October.
Other carmakers such as rival Toyota Motor Corp. have similar technology that displays objects using night vision sensors, but Honda's is the first to pick out pedestrians, enclosing the image in an orange frame in a head-up display reflected above the instrument panel.
On the safety front, Honda has developed a system that enhances pedestrian safety by lifting the hood when the car collides with a person, providing a space below of about 4 inches that Honda says reduces head injuries.
Honda is known as a leader in pedestrian safety technology, but analysts say that is unlikely to help profits much since few car buyers are willing to pay for expensive safety devices.
Honda did not say how much the night vision system would cost, but an engineer said it would be "a few thousand dollars."
The technology is far from complete: While it is smart enough to recognize people by the shape of the head and shoulders as well as by detecting body temperature, it won't be able to pick them out on a bicycle or under an opaque umbrella.
The system is also useless in temperatures above 86 degrees Fahrenheit.