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These best-selling cars and SUVs are about to get safer

By Mark Phelan/Detroit Free Press (TNS) • Aug 12, 2018 at 4:00 PM

Some of America’s favorite, best-selling vehicles are about to get safer.

Advanced driver assistance systems like collision alert and autonomous emergency braking are increasingly common in affordable, high-volume cars and SUVs at the heart of the market.

“Our surveys show shoppers increasingly want more technology that assists in making them better, safer drivers,” Autotrader executive analyst Michelle Krebs said. “They feel some features should be standard, but are willing to pay extra for more advanced systems.”

After resisting safety regulations for a couple of generations, automakers have learned that being perceived as a safety leader is good for business.

We’ve come a long way since the days when auto execs would intone “people won’t pay for safety” as if it were carved in stone when Moses came down from the mountain.

Legendary Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca fiercely resisted mandatory front air bags. He swore they’d make new cars too expensive for the average Joe, then became air bags’ most ardent pitchman when he realized people would happily pay for a feature with proven safety benefits.

Preventing accidents

Subaru, Honda and Toyota capitalized on this early. They created proprietary names for suites of safety systems and offered them to popular models ahead of the competition. Subaru EyeSight, Honda Sensing and Toyota Safety Sense, which include features like autonomous emergency braking, blind spot alert and road-sign recognition, have become a core part of the companies’ branding and sales pitch.

These features will prevent accidents and save lives.

I’ve experienced them all in real-world driving. They work, and the companies with the best engineers program them so subtly that you’ll never realize you have automatic emergency brakes until they keep you out of trouble.

None of the features in the systems is unique. Any automaker could offer them. Most do on some models, but the idea of packaging and promoting them on top sellers is new.

Spotting danger, and pedestrians

Ford jumped on the bandwagon in a big way this year with its Co-Pilot 360 system.

Ford will make the system standard on all upcoming vehicles introduced in the U.S. It debuts on the 2019 Fusion midsize sedan and Edge Sport SUV this year and will be on the Ranger when the midsize pickup debuts next year.

Co-Pilot 360 includes standard:

• Automatic emergency braking

• Collision alert

• Pedestrian detection

• Blind spot alert

• Lane-keeping assist

• Automatic high beams

Ford is rolling out Co-Pilot all over the world, with different features on vehicles in individual markets. The name could soon be as closely associated with the Blue Oval as Ecoboost turbocharged engines, the beneficiary of an earlier Ford marketing blitz.

Toyota is already on the second generation of its Safety Sense system. It’s standard on vehicles including the Camry, America’s best-selling car; RAV4 best-selling SUV; and Avalon.

The latest version of Safety Sense includes:

• Collision alert

• Automatic emergency braking

• Pedestrian and bicycle detection

• Lane departure alert

• Road sign information on the instrument panel or head-up display

• Adaptive cruise control with automatic lane centering

• Automatic high beams

• Lane departure assist

Honda just sold its one millionth vehicle with Honda Sensing in the U.S. It’s standard on the 2018 Accord, America’s second-best-selling car, and the Clarity fuel cell and electric models. It’ll be standard on the 2019 Insight hybrid. It’s an option on the Fit, Civic, CR-V, Pilot and Ridgeline.

Elements of Honda Sensing include:

• Automatic emergency braking

• Collision alert

• Lane keeping assist

• Road departure mitigation, which corrects if it senses the vehicle going off the road.

• Adaptive cruise control

Subaru was among the first automakers to offer advanced driver assistance systems across the model line. Only the BRZ sport coupe can’t be ordered with the system, which includes:

• Automatic emergency braking

• Adaptive cruise control

• Lane-keeping assist

EyeSight is standard on Subaru’s 2019 Legacy, Ascent, Outback and Forester. Subaru introduced the system in 2013 and has been steadily adding features and vehicles.

More choices ahead

Other automakers are also adding driver assistance systems, but in a more piecemeal fashion rather than as a set of standard features.

Nissan will unveil its new trademarked suite of safety features, Safety Shield 360, this fall with automatic front and rear emergency braking, pedestrian detection, blind spot alert and automatic high beams.

Hyundai is currently offering its SmartSense set of assistance features on two SUVs, the new Kona subcompact and upcoming Santa Fe compact.

Chevrolet offers nearly all the features on big sellers like the Equinox, Silverado and Malibu, but has yet to package them in a branded pitch or make them standard equipment.

Automakers have agreed to make automatic braking standard by the end of 2022, but competition and customer demand is likely to make it and many of the other assistance features common well before that.

It’s a far cry from the days when automakers had to be dragged kicking and screaming to add features like shoulder belts and air bags.

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