DETROIT - When an automaker or one of its suppliers develops a new technology, there's no guarantee it will be embraced by the car-buying public. But Staff Reporter Richard Truett says three innovations bear watching. Here they are with his predictions for each.
1. Four-wheel steering
Four-wheel steering failed on compact Japanese cars in the 1980s and 1990s. It failed on General Motors' big trucks this decade. But don't write off four-wheel steering just yet.
Delphi Corp. engineered the system offered on the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups and Chevy Suburban and GMC Yukon SUVs from 2002 to 2005. The innovation was greeted with little enthusiasm by consumers. But that probably had more to do with poor marketing than a lack of performance.
By electronically enabling the rear wheels to turn as much as 12 degrees - it was the first production application of steer-by-wire - the so-called Quadrasteer system reduced the turning radius of those GM trucks from 44 feet to just 36.5 feet.
Also, Quadrasteer improved high-speed cornering stability because it helped keep the vehicle's body from leaning during turns. It was aimed at drivers who often towed boats and trailers. Quadrasteer hit the market as a hefty $4,495 option. GM later reduced the price to $2,000 but did little to promote it.
The technology may not be dead. Delphi hopes to sell it to another manufacturer.
Prediction: Because the big pickup market is becoming so competitive, look for four-wheel steering, by Delphi or another supplier, to appear on a Ford, Dodge, Toyota or Nissan pickup.
2. Night vision
The idea of using an infrared camera to detect heat-emitting objects in front or on the sides of a vehicle was a good one. GM's choice of the 2000 Cadillac DeVille to roll out the technology by Raytheon was not. Nor was the method of display, on the windshield. The grille-mounted camera focused on the area around the front of the car and could see as far ahead as 500 yards. Ghostly images were projected on the lower left portion of the windshield. But if the car was moving at, say, 50 mph, it could be hard for the driver to stay focused on the road while looking at the picture on the windshield.
It was also a pricey option (about $2,200). More than 6,000 units were sold the first model year; then volume plummeted, and Cadillac dropped the option after the 2005 model year.
Instead of discontinuing the technology, GM could have found a more suitable vehicle line for the technology - say, Hummer. Also, the system could have been used by hunters and sportsmen who often take their vehicles off-road.
But night vision systems are not dead. Autoliv and Siemens VDO offer newer versions with better displays that are much easier on the eyes.
Prediction: Look for see-in-the-dark systems to make a comeback and be installed in mainstream vehicles within five years.
3. Black boxes
Just who owns the information contained in a car's data recorder is the subject of debate not only in the auto industry but also by those in state and federal government agencies.
Many vehicles on the road already have at least some ability to capture and store data such as vehicle speed and seat belt status.
Black boxes can help automakers diagnose hard-to-trace electrical problems. The devices also can assist accident investigators as they determine what happened before, during and after a crash. Any part of the vehicle that has a sensor, from the seats to the brake system, can feed data into the black box.
Automakers could use the information in black boxes to defend themselves against lawsuits involving claims of defects. Or lawyers could use the information in the boxes to prove a component failed. Black boxes are controversial, some feel, because the information they contain could be used to usurp a person's right to privacy.
Prediction: There will be uniform requirements spelling out what data can be captured, who can have access to it and how it can be used. But, even then, this is a technology that virtually all cars will have soon.