Toyota Motor Corp. next month will begin delivering a Lexus model with a sophisticated crash mitigation system in the hope that customers will pay thousands of dollars extra to help reduce accidents and injuries.
The system is being introduced as an option on the 2004 LS430 sold by Torrance-based Toyota Motor Sales USA's luxury unit.
It warns drivers if they are getting too close to the vehicle ahead, it tightens seat belts in anticipation of a crash and it helps the driver slow the car if it senses a crash is probable.
Toyota's safety system -- called "Pre-Collision" -- is offered as part of a package of luxury options on the LS430. Buyers won't be able to get Pre-Collision as a stand-alone feature; they will have to pony up for one of several packages that will add $9,645 to $15,030 to the car's base price of $55,125.
Lexus spokesman Bill Ussery said that 11% of the orders for new LS430s since the system was added to the options list included the Pre-Collision system.
The system is the first rear-end crash mitigation feature offered in the U.S. from a Japanese carmaker.
Mercedes-Benz was first in the market with a similar system, called Pre-Safe, that it introduced in 2002 as standard equipment on its $74,000 to $125,000 S-Class sedans. The Mercedes system returns reclined seats to full upright position, tightens the seat belts, even rolls up the windows and closes the sunroof in anticipation of a crash. It also assists the driver by applying up to 20% of the car's braking force.
Toyota's system uses full braking power to assist a driver in a rear-end collision "panic stop" situation.
By packaging the safety system with other items, such as leather upholstery, upgraded stereos and heated and adjustable rear seats, Toyota "will be able to sell it in a package of things that many Lexus customers want anyway," said market researcher Wes Brown of Los Angeles-based Nextrend.
Toyota expects the system to trickle down through the Lexus line and into Toyota brand cars and trucks in coming years.
The new safety system was developed by engineers in Japan and first applied on a Toyota luxury model there last year. Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Corp. have similar systems in Japan, but neither company has made theirs available in the U.S.
Toyota's system uses electronic brake and throttle controls and so-called adaptive cruise control that helps keep the car a predetermined distance from the vehicle directly ahead of it. It also uses radar that reads the distance between cars and a sophisticated controller system that computes how fast a vehicle is gaining on a car or truck. If the system calculates the gap between vehicles is closing so rapidly a crash is possible, it sounds an audible alert and flashes a signal on the car's dash to alert the driver.
If the driver doesn't respond by slowing down, it tightens the seat belts. If the gap between cars continues to narrow, the electronics kick in and help maintain sufficient brake force to slow the car before it strikes the rear of the vehicle on which it has been gaining.
Toyota said that studies have shown that drivers in crashes typically do not apply the brakes hard enough or soon enough.
"Most accidents involving deaths or serious injuries are caused by late braking, and in 40% there's no braking at all," said Hiroyuki Takahashi, Toyota's vehicle safety group manager. Pre-Collision, he said, "can help change that statistic."