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The Garage: Focus on autos

Infiniti's all-around view

A camera system offered with its EX35 provides 360-degree coverage of the SUV.

September 29, 2007|Martin Zimmerman and Joni Gray | Times Staff Writers

Infiniti is taking a new angle on rear-view cameras.

Nissan Motor Co.'s luxury nameplate is offering a new software-assisted camera system that provides drivers with a 360-degree overhead perspective of their car -- sort of a bird's-eye view for parallel parking. The "around view monitor" will be an option on the 2008 Infiniti EX35, a new small sport utility vehicle.

"It's a high-tech parking aid that goes well beyond reverse-camera technology," said Robert Yakushi, Nissan North America Inc.'s director of product safety and environmental issues.

Rear-view cameras, which display on a dashboard monitor a real-time image of what's directly behind a vehicle, have become increasingly common in the last five years.

About 22% of all 2007 models sold in the U.S. offered rear-view cameras, according to data tracker Edmunds.com. They are typically sold as part of an option package on luxury cars such as the Audi A6 or on big SUVs, which are more likely to have rear blind spots.

The increase has been in part the result of the explosive growth in onboard navigation systems, which provide the dashboard monitor needed for the rear-view camera display.

Nissan's new system consists of four small Sony cameras that shoot fish-eye images from the back, front and both sides of the car. Microprocessors then flatten the images and feed them to a software program that converts them to an overhead view extending about 6 feet in every direction around the car.

"If you can't park well with a 360-degree view of your car, you really should go get yourself a bus pass," opined the auto blog www.lease.ca.

Infiniti isn't marketing the device as a safety feature. A 2006 study by federal regulators of rear-view only cameras said the technology at that time was "expensive, unreliable and gives drivers a false sense of security."

Safety advocates have complained that rear-view camera technology so far hasn't been able to overcome design shortcomings in some vehicles that limit rear visibility and contribute to back-over accidents.

A spokesman for Infiniti said that, even with the overhead-view system, drivers still needed to look over their shoulders and check their rear-view mirrors when backing up. To prevent drivers from watching the rather addictive overhead view instead of the road, the feature works only while the car is in reverse or going forward at very slow speeds while parking.

The overhead monitor will be offered as part of an options package that includes the company's new "lane departure prevention" system. That system is designed to automatically bring the car back into its lane if it senses the driver has unintentionally veered off course.

(The EX35 will feature another bit of first-time-out technology: a clear coat made from a sun-activated gel designed to gradually eradicate minor scratches and swirls.)

Infiniti hasn't released pricing for the options package or the EX35, which is due in showrooms in late December, but said the vehicle would be priced around $35,000.

It is unclear how motorists will respond to the overhead-view camera, which could fall into a category that some pundits have dubbed "why tech" -- in other words, devices that prompt the question: Why do I need this?

Many emerging technologies make it to the top of car buyers' must-have lists, then move down as a result of sticker shock.

J.D. Power and Associates recently surveyed consumers about their familiarity with, interest in and intent to purchase "techy" options. Power's director of automotive emerging technologies said the study showed that people were increasingly interested in both safety and entertainment technology.

"Safety-related technologies have traditionally garnered the highest interest levels among car buyers," Mike Marshall said. "However, entertainment features, navigation and premium surround sound are growing in interest -- especially before the price is revealed."

martin.zimmerman@latimes.com

joni.gray@latimes.com

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