Subaru adds EyeSight technology to Impreza, plans big rollout
Targets 80% uptake for pricey add-on
Editor's note: This report has been updated to make clear that the U.S. version of Subaru's EyeSight lacks some features used in Japan.
TOKYO -- Subaru said it will add its new third-generation EyeSight pre-crash system to the Impreza small car this year as part of a drive to boost margins and burnish the brand’s image as a safety leader.
Subaru is adding EyeSight to the Impreza for the 2015 model year as it races to stoke tepid uptake in the U.S.
Subaru aims to lift EyeSight installation rates in the crucial U.S. market, which accounts for 55 percent of the brand’s global sales. Adding it to the Impreza could help. It is one of Subaru’s top sellers, with U.S. sales up 9 percent to 59,119 units through August.
Subaru can charge around $1,195 more for cars with the technology. The package, which includes lane-keeping technology, auto-braking power and adaptive cruise control, has also won top accolades from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Subaru leverages that in marketing.
Despite such accolades, only 10 percent of Subaru buyers in the U.S. spring for the add-on. In Japan, by contrast, about 76 percent of Subarus leave the lot with EyeSight.
Over the next four years, however, Subaru aims to lift the U.S. installment rate to 80 percent, spokesman Masato Saitou said.
In the U.S., only three models currently offer EyeSight: The Legacy sedan and the Outback and Forester crossovers. The Legacy and Outback get the third-generation system that debuted this year; the Forester offers the previous version.
Besides the new-generation EyeSight system, the refreshed Impreza will feature design enhancements, including a sportier front face and tweaked suspension tuning.
Engineers also reworked the engine to reduce internal friction and bump up fuel economy. The upgrade should deliver highway fuel economy of 37 mpg, compared with 36 mpg now.
Subaru unveiled the upgraded EyeSight system last year.Subaru says it sells the technology at near cost, but EyeSight typically is bundled into higher-margin, top-trim levels. The factory and dealers like that because it moves buyers to higher-priced versions of the vehicles they want.
Subaru introduced the original EyeSight feature to the U.S. in August 2012.
By contrast, the system has been on sale in Japan since 2010 and is offered on every vehicle except Subaru's BRZ sporty coupe, its WRX-STI performance compact and its line of Daihatsu-supplied minicars, vehicles with 660cc engines.
The latest EyeSight gets a lengthy list of improvements.
The revamped stereo camera has a 40 percent wider and longer range of visibility. It also enables more sensitive adaptive cruise control. Because the camera senses color, it can detect red brake lights. That allows for better tracking of traffic patterns and a quicker response when cars ahead are speeding up or slowing down.
EyeSight also gets improved auto-braking power. The previous system could stop a car before collision if the speed differential between the Subaru and the car or obstacle ahead is less than 19 mph, the company says, although IIHS said the system worked fine at 25 mph. The new system delivers stopping power at speed differentials up to 31 mph.
Although the U.S. version of EyeSight gets Subaru's more sensitive third-generation camera, it lacks some of the system's more advanced automated steering systems. In Japan, Subaru has deployed a third-generation system that also includes lane-keeping technology and a lane-departure prevention function. Both feature automated steering assist controls to nudge stray drivers gently back on course. Those functions are available only in the Japan-market Levorg wagon and WRX S4 sporty compact, both of which went on sale this year.
Subaru says it hasn't deployed those features in the U.S. because the technology cues of a road's white lines, and not all American roads have those.
As an added safety function, the U.S. version also gets steering responsive fog lights that automatically illuminate on one side when cornering. That feature is not yet available in Japan.
The rollout of new safety technologies is part of Subaru's attempt to re-brand itself as a family-oriented safety brand and not just an outdoorsy all-wheel-drive specialist.
Part of the challenge will be parlaying safety into sales.
Buyers still often cite all-wheel drive and reliability as their top reasons for buying a Subaru, ahead of safety.
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