It’s a slow ride on the regulatory side to the day when cameras replace mirrors in cars, but when that does happen, Magna International is poised to own a large piece of the market.
“We’re well-suited for the future when that trend comes, but we see it as a slow, slow adoption at the moment,” said Keith Foote, a vice-president of engineering with Magna Mirrors of America.
The Canada-based company, along with advanced-electronics supplier Gentex, revealed in late October rearview mirrors that can switch from a traditional reflection to a panoramic live-video display.
It has been a year since Lexus said it was eliminating traditional side mirrors in favor of sleek digital cameras in what it called an industry-first move to improve safety and visibility and reduce cabin noise and driver distraction.
The technology debuted — but only in Japan — on the redesigned Lexus ES sedan, which went on sale in October 2018. The European version of the 2019 Audi e-tron crossover, which uses technology from Spanish supplier Ficosa, also has digital mirrors. And Honda will incorporate an exterior camera monitoring system in the 2021 “e” electric car.
Vehicles without glass mirrors have long been proposed by stylists and engineers wanting sleeker looks and improved safety. Eliminating the mirrors also can help fuel efficiency because the assemblies are smaller and cut the wind better.
So-called camera monitoring systems represent an emerging technology that could be an eventual replacement for mirrors, but they are not entirely welcome in North America yet. The Gentex and Magna systems offer a compromise.
Some countries in Europe and Asia allow camera monitoring systems to replace mirrors, but safety regulations in the United States and Canada require vehicles to have inside mirrors as well as outside driver-side mirrors to complement a camera system.
Regulators in North America “take a very conservative approach to changes for devices that are safety related,” Brad Bosma, Gentex vice-president of vision systems, told Automotive News in November.
While regulatory red tape might slow the adoption of digital mirrors, Magna, the largest supplier of exterior mirrors and cameras in the world, is prepared for the transition, said Foote.
Its Clearview system consists of two mirrors. The first is an inside mirror that, like Gentex’s Full Display Mirror, can switch to video display mode. Outside, there’s a sideview mirror with a camera mounted to it that sends a video feed to a screen inside the car, located on the driver or passenger-side A-pillar. The camera is mounted beyond the widest point of the vehicle to cut blind spots.
Magna also has a version of the technology, called the Clearview Camera Wing, that is only compliant in Europe and Japan. It eliminates the outside mirror entirely in favor of a camera feed to the video screen.
Magna’s Clearview technology is not in series production yet. Gentex said its Full Display Mirror is available for 27 models from five automakers and that the company is in talks with other automakers exploring camera-monitoring systems.
Limited by laws
Magna estimated that just 0.5 percent of vehicles globally will have the technology by 2025. That’s mainly because the camera monitors are legal in only a handful of countries.
In October 2016, Transport Canada published a proposed amendment to Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations Schedule 111, requesting feedback on the potential to harmonize with UN Regulation 46, which allows side mirrors to be replaced by camera systems.
“No stakeholders supported this proposal, so this option was not included in the department’s regulatory update,” Transport Canada said in an email to Automotive News Canada. The safety agency said it continues to review the situation.
“The regulatory side will be a challenge, at least in North America, for a few years yet,” Foote said.
In 2013, Transport Canada found that exterior digital cameras could lead to “significant reduction in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions from the heavy-duty-vehicle sector.”
Exterior mirrors contribute 2 to 5 percent toward the total drag, or air resistance, of a vehicle.
Camera systems are expensive, however, costing five to seven times more than conventional mirrors.
“Over time, you can probably make a case you can pay it back,” said Foote. “But the camera still needs to be supported by an arm that project out from the vehicle. So, while you are reducing drag, you’re not going to get all the drag eliminated that a convention mirror system has.”
Digital's dark side
Cameras offer some safety perks, Foote said.
“They definitely have the opportunity to be safer from visibility point of view. You’ getting a larger field of view.”
Glass mirrors have a 12-degree field of view, while camera monitoring systems can provide a 50-degree field of view.
But there’s a catch.
“Generally, video cameras are not an advantage at night,” Foote said.
The digital image is illuminated somewhat better than a reflection in a mirror, but the quality of the image isn’t as good as what a mirror provides.
And there’s the matter of keeping the camera free of dirt, debris and even water droplets, which distort the image.
“Magna is doing a lot of work in that area because we see that as one of the biggest hurdles keeping this fro going mainstream,” Foote said.
Alexa St. John of Automotive News contributed to this report