With automakers' and regulators' emphasis on safety, sales of vehicle head-up displays are poised to skyrocket, research firm IHS Automotive says.
But companies must use caution to ensure that the technology does not create a safety hazard by distracting drivers, an IHS analyst says.
Worldwide sales of vehicles with head-up displays, which project light onto the windshield, creating an image that appears just above the hood about five to eight feet beyond the windshield to prevent focus problems for drivers, are expected to soar from 1.2 million last year to 9.1 million in 2020, according to IHS.
The reason, writes IHS' Ben Scott, is because of the displays' "unique safety implications."
If a vehicle's global positioning system is meshed with a head-up display, driving data such as speed limit and blind-spot warning signals can be viewed easily, Scott, a technology solutions analyst for IHS Automotive in England, wrote in an e-mail.
Head-up displays also can show text messages from mobile phones, song information from MP3 players and oil or tire pressure, according to IHS.
The units "enable the driver to obtain vital information regarding the vehicle, without the need to look away from the road at the instrument cluster," Scott wrote.
General Motors, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi offer head-up displays in some vehicles. GM introduced the technology in 1988, but problems with the light source and optics resulted in disappointing sales, IHS said.
IHS expects sales of vehicles with head-up displays to rise 8 percent to 1.3 million units this year.
In 2012, only 2 percent of vehicles sold had head-up displays, but that figure should reach 9 percent by 2020, according to IHS.
"People who have used HUDs for a long time start taking it for granted," Scott wrote. "When they move to a vehicle without a HUD, it is strange to them and they can't live without it."
Scott wrote that he expects head-up displays' growth in vehicles to come from units that project information on adjustable glass panels that extend from the top of the instrument cluster, instead of on windshields. Such displays would eliminate the development costs tied to windshield displays.
Johnson Controls supplied such head-up displays for the Peugeot 5008 minivan and 3008 crossover. IHS predicts another automaker, which it did not name, will use such head-up displays within the next two years.
Major suppliers of head-up displays include Nippon Seiki Co., Denso Corp., Delphi Automotive and Continental AG, IHS said.
"HUDs are also expected to gain a strong presence in the C segment of affordable small family cars within the next five years, as most OEMs consider this technology," Scott wrote.
Despite what Scott sees as advantages of head-up displays, he warned of information overload. Caution must be exercised with the technology, he wrote, or it could end up "transforming from a safety feature into a safety concern."