TOKYO - Few automakers boast a CEO who can demonstrate his company's racing vehicles at speeds of 292 km (181 miles) an hour.
Honda Motor Co. is one of them.
On Tuesday, Takeo Fukui, president and chief executive of Japan's third-biggest car maker, 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 U.S. market, 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 new technology that sends a warning signal to a driver when two sensors under the headlights detect a pedestrian in the dark.
The so-called intelligent night vision system technology will be available as an option on the new Honda Legend luxury sedan, to be launched in October.
Other car makers 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 heads-up display reflected above the dashboard.
Honda, the world's top motorcycle maker, also announced prototypes of an electric moped and a gasoline-electric hybrid scooter, both of which it eventually plans to mass-market as environmentally sound vehicles.
On the safety front, it 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 10 cm (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 cash 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 also is useless in temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit).
Minutes after stepping out of the F-1 machine, the 59-year-old Fukui continued to impress as he got on an RC211V racing bike and roared past the crowd.
He then drove off quietly in the newly developed hydrogen-powered fuel cell scooter.