Cadillac's Night Vision system is attracting competitors.
Eight automakers will have the heat-sensing vision system installed on their luxury cars by the 2004 model year, said Stuart Klapper, director of automotive programs for Raytheon Co.'s Commercial Electronics division.
The system has been installed on the Cadillac DeVille since the 2000 model year.
Cadillac originally forecast sales of 3,500 units in 2000, but when the system went on sale it asked Raytheon to quadruple production. Raytheon closed out 2000 with 7,000 delivered. Cadillac dealers were demanding more.
Klapper said Raytheon will produce about 15,000 Night Vision systems for Cadillac this year.
Night Vision is a small camera in the grille that picks up infrared heat from objects as far as 450 meters ahead of the vehicle.
The camera's view is projected onto the lower part of the DeVille's windshield with a head-up display. Hotter objects look brighter in the picture. It can detect objects through fog, giving drivers more time to react to potentially dangerous situations. It adds about e 2,200 to the cost of the DeVille.
'Every major automaker in the world has started some kind of action with Night Vision,' Klapper said at the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress. He said automakers were determining how to package it in their vehicles and are working with Raytheon to customize the system.
One manufacturer has asked that Raytheon develop a version of Night Vision that would move with the steering wheel. Others are looking at different ways to incorporate the display.
Klapper declined to name the manufacturers Raytheon has signed, but he did say the next vehicle equipped with Night Vision would be on the road within a year and that it will be a luxury car.
As Raytheon gets into high-volume production of Night Vision, the cost should come down, possibly to about e1,100 to e1,300, said Gary Finley, a Raytheon marketing manager.
Then the system will cost less, perform better and be less likely to fail. Raytheon is asking Cadillac customers about system performance through focus groups, mail surveys and dealer visits.
'Thirty-five percent said they bought the DeVille because it was the only car that had Night Vision. A majority of those people said they would not buy another car without it,' Klapper said. 'They feel it is an absolute necessity.'
Apparently, so does the US Secret Service. Raytheon equipped six new limousines for President Bush with Night Vision.
Cadillac says it will make Night Vision optional across its line within five years. Raytheon says its upcoming versions of Night Vision will have cameras that can see farther and project a clearer picture.
Klapper said Raytheon, a military contractor, has barely tapped Night Vision's potential. He compared current versions to a 1950s TV set.
Asked how Raytheon might improve the system, Klapper said: 'We have many defense technologies to pick from.'