Trickle-down theory? As an economic concept it may have been a crock, but in automotive safety technology we’re seeing not so much a trickle as a torrent heading down-market.
Nothing makes that point more clearly than Toyota’s recent declaration that, by the end of 2017, almost every Toyota and Lexus model sold in North America will have as standard a suite of active safety aids that go farther, and arrive sooner, than anything mandated by law.
Features that first appeared only a few years ago as options on high-end luxury cars will be standard as soon as this fall on one of Toyota’s biggest-selling and most affordable cars: every 2017 Corolla (of which the 2016 model starts at $15,995) will be equipped with Toyota Safety Sense-P (TSS-P), which is actually the more advanced of two TSS packages.
While Toyota may be the first full-line mass-market auto maker to make this commitment, it’s a safe bet that competitive pressures will drive its rivals to follow suit, or go one better. We’ve certainly come a long way from when governments had to force car makers kicking and screaming to equip cars with seat-belts – which most drivers then refused to wear anyway.
“High-level driver assist technologies can do more than help protect people in the event of a crash; they can help prevent some crashes from ever happening in the first place,” said Toyota Motor North America president Jim Lentz. “We are proud to help lead this industry in standardizing these systems and bring automated braking to our customers sooner rather than later.”
Toyota’s announcement came just days after the U.S. safety agency NHTSA announced an agreement with 20 auto makers to make automatic emergency braking (AEB) standard by 2022. Toyota’s name for AEB is Pre-Collision System (PCS), and it will be standard on the 2017 Corolla, with the capability to detect pedestrians as well as other vehicles.
Also standard on the Corolla will be: Lane Departure Alert (LDA) with Steering Assist; Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC); and Automatic High-Beam control (AHB).
That’s the contents of the TSS-P package. The “light” package – TSS-C – lacks the pedestrian-detection mode of PCS, and does not include radar cruise control or lane-departure steering assist.
While many may see this move as a marketing exercise, Ben Spataphora of CarCostCanada.com gives credit to the engineers. “Over time, things that were too pricey to put in, now with the unit cost coming down, the engineers we entrust our lives to have decided, ‘Why not put that in a car?’
“It’s not something someone is telling them to do. Usually regulations are reactionary, as opposed to an engineer that says ‘here’s a real problem, let’s do something about it. ‘”
Currently, features like those in TSS-P are available only on rival compacts’ higher trim levels and/or as part of an option package – or not at all. For example, the 2017 Hyundai Elantra has most of those features only on the Ultimate model. However, the Elantra does have blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alerts on all but the base trim; where available on Toyota/Lexus vehicles, those features are in separate packages.
Toyota’s PCS system uses a camera plus either a laser beam (on TSS-C) or radar (TSS-P) and is active at speeds between 10 km/h and 140-km/h (TSS-C) or maximum speed (TSS-P). If a potential collision with another vehicle is detected and the driver doesn’t respond to warnings, the brakes will be applied automatically to mitigate, or potentially avoid, a collision. The pedestrian-detection element in TSS-P operates between approximately 10 and 80 km/h; TSS-P also promises enhanced object detection and braking capability over TSS-C.
DRCC can automatically maintain a safe following distance from the vehicle in front at speeds above 40 km/h but does not include automatic stop-and-go on Corolla (on some other models, it might).
LDA employs a camera to detect possible drift out of lane; the steering assist feature in TSS-P – which can actively make steering inputs to prevent lane departure – is available only on vehicles with electric power steering.
A camera located inside the top centre of the windshield provides the “eyes” for the PCS, LDA and AHB. The default setting for PCS is “on”, and although it can be switched off, it defaults back to “on” at each restart. Conversely, LDA can be switched off and stays off through restarts until the driver switches it on again.
Some models are excluded from the end-of-2017 commitment: the Lexus GX and the Toyota 4Runner, 86 (jointly developed with Subaru), and Yaris Sedan (developed by Mazda).
Still to be revealed is which models will get which packages and when. However, if the Corolla has the more advanced TSS-P, that implies that only the Yaris hatchback will have TSS-C.
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