Autoliv Inc. is preparing to roll out an upgraded night-vision system next year that can identify large animals such as deer, cattle or horses in the road.
The Sweden-based safety equipment supplier has production contracts for its third-generation night-vision unit, but it did not disclose its customers. Autoliv's current night-vision customers include Audi AG, BMW AG and Rolls-Royce.
Automotive night vision has been on the market for a decade, but has yet to break out of its niche. Part of the reason is cost.
In 2000, General Motors introduced a Raytheon-designed system in the Cadillac DeVille in the U.S., an option that cost consumers $2,250. After an initial burst of interest, sales tailed off. GM stopped offering the system in 2004.
Will Cadillac revive that technology?
"It's something we are familiar with, and it's something we've looked at," said Cadillac spokesman David Caldwell. "Will we have a night-vision system? Not necessarily soon."
Japanese automakers also have shown interest. Lexus rolled out a night-vision system in 2002 on the Lexus LX 470, and Honda introduced its own version two years later in the Legend.
Autoliv's current system, introduced in 2008, costs automakers less than $1,000 per unit. But a big improvement in sales could come when Autoliv develops a less costly version of its far-infrared night-vision camera.
If a fourth-generation version is approved, it could be available in about five years at a cost to automakers of $300 or so, said Stuart Klapper, managing director of Autoliv Electronics' night-vision program.
If automakers were willing to buy large numbers of units, the unit price would decline and night vision could enter the mass market, Klapper predicted.
"We are definitely in discussions with all the mainstream manufacturers," Klapper said. "We are targeting that number [$300 per unit], but we haven't made a final decision about a fourth-generation unit."