Top auto safety, assist features available — at a price

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Advanced safety and driver-assist features like adaptive cruise-control and lane-keeping are widely available on new cars, but they can be pricey choices that many new-car buyers bypass.

That means the potentially life-saving systems aren’t deployed as often as they could be.

Many of the newer features like automatic emergency braking are standard only on luxury models or on the most-expensive trim levels. On mid-level trims, safety and driver-assist technology options can easily add $1,500 to the sticker price of a new car.

Access to those features should improve as costs come down and as automakers move standardize systems deemed life-saving — notably automatic braking and blind-spot detection — even though they’re not yet required by law.

Automakers and industry analysts don’t break out overall numbers on how many people shell out for the new technology. Both say that standardized automatic emergency-braking might acclimate drivers to some of the more expensive features. Carmakers say buyers already are beginning to seek out advanced driver-assistance features in addition to safety-oriented technology that not long ago was found only on expensive luxury vehicles.

“The price point will take a bit,” said Jeremy Carlson, an autonomous driving analyst with London-based analysis company IHS Markit. “I think more people will get to that point where they seek these things out.”

He and others compare the latest technology to air bags, which not long ago were standard only on high-end cars. The government had to demand that every vehicle be equipped with them before carmakers made them standard.

The latest features fall mostly into two categories: those that assist drivers and those that potentially save drivers’ lives.

Automakers are moving to outfit new vehicles with automatic emergency-braking, considered a life-saving feature, across their line-ups.

Meanwhile, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Honda, Mazda and others offer driver-assistance packages for additional charges on most of their line-ups. Those packages include adaptive cruise-control, lane-keeping assist and automatic high-beams.

The newer perks are being introduced on mainstream vehicles as models are refreshed or redesigned.

Package deals

But it’s not a matter of picking simple à la carte options for most vehicles.

Here’s an example of the complicated pricing for the 2018 Chevrolet Traverse: If you go shopping for a base-model Traverse L that starts at $30,925, you can’t get blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert or rear park-assist. Those are available on mid-level $36,095 LT trims, but you’ll have to pay extra to get them.

Go for the $45,995 front-wheel drive Traverse Premier trim, and you can opt for a safety package that adds low-speed automatic-braking, collision alert, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist and front pedestrian detection — but you’ll have to pay an additional $475 to get it. Only on the $48,895 all-wheel-drive Premier trim do all of those features come standard.

GM’s cross-town competitor the Ford Escape starts at $23,850. To get the Safe and Smart package with rain-sensing windshield wipers, auto high-beams, blind-spot detection, cross-traffic alerts, lane-keeping and adaptive cruise-control with forward collision-warning, you’d have to buy — at minimum — the $25,605 Escape SE trim, and then opt for the $1,295 Safe and Smart package on top of that.

Some carmakers have established a lower price-point for the technology. Mazda made its i-Activsense package standard on the $26,215 mid-level 2018 CX-5 crossover. The package includes Mazda’s version of adaptive cruise-control, blind-spot detection, lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning and features to help avoid collisions. Customers can opt for the package on other CX-5 trims for $625.

Demand drives up

Despite the added cost, automakers and analysts say demand for the driver-assist and automated safety features is growing, especially in luxury models.

GM points to the Super Cruise debut on the 2018 Cadillac CT6 as an example. The company hoped 10 percent of CT6 customers would opt for the hands-free automated highway driving system. Through February, roughly 30 percent of their customers have purchased either the $89,290 Platinum trim level that comes standard with Super Cruise, or paid the $5,000 up-charge to get Super Cruise on the $70,290 Premium trim CT6. Super Cruise in not available on the base $55,090 CT6.

Many believe the gateway to introducing the technology is automatic emergency-braking, which applies the brakes to avoid forward collisions. Automakers need to show consumers “tech has their back,” said Richard Ayres, a marketing manager at Ford.

Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and Toyota reported more than half of their 2017 model-year vehicles had standard automatic-emergency braking, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Twenty automakers have pledged to equip all new vehicles with the feature by September 2022.

While Tesla sold the highest percentage of vehicles with automatic-braking in 2017 — nearly 100 percent — Toyota equipped the largest number of vehicles, according to NHTSA. GM reported it produced 20 percent of its 2017 vehicles with automatic emergency-braking. Fiat Chrysler put that number at 6 percent; Ford reported 2 percent, NHTSA said.

The highway safety agency doesn’t require automatic braking. But the government strongly supports standardizing that technology, a driving factor in the automakers’ voluntary decision to standardize the safety feature.

“We’re really seeing that with the customers, the light bulb in their head is starting to go off that these technologies have real benefits to them,” Ayres said. “The first thing they want is this feeling of protection. We see customers really wanting this protective technology.”

Those lifesaving systems typically share hardware with the convenience features. As automatic braking becomes standard, automakers can more easily install the convenience systems, and they’ll be more prevalent, Carlson said.

“Emergency braking is going to play a big role in warming the public up to the fact that robots can do things,” Carlson said. “With things like blind-spot systems, drivers tend to intuitively understand something like that. I’m not sure we’re there yet with something like adaptive cruise-control, but I’m sure we will very quickly start to realize the benefits of an application like that.”

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau