- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2001

Chalk one up for General Motors and Cadillac. Other automakers have taken note of the success of Cadillac's Night Vision and are ready to play catch up.

Stuart Klapper, director of automotive programs for Raytheon Co.'s Commercial Electronics division said eight automakers will have the heat-sensing vision system by the 2004 model year. Raytheon's system has been available since the 2000 model year only on the Cadillac DeVille.

The GM division forecast sales of 3,500 units in 2000, but, when the system became available, it asked Raytheon to quadruple production. Raytheon closed out the model year with 7,000 delivered, and Cadillac dealers were scrambling for additional units. Raytheon will produce about 15,000 Night Vision systems for Cadillac in 2001.

The system consists of a small camera in the grille that picks up infrared heat from objects as far as 500 yards ahead of the vehicle. The view is projected onto the lower portion of the car's windshield with a head-up display, and hotter objects look brighter in the picture. Night Vision can detect objects through fog, providing drivers more time to react to potentially dangerous situations. The system adds about $2,000 to the cost of the car.

Mr. Klapper told the recent Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress in Detroit that "every major automaker in the world has started some kind of action with Night Vision." Mr. Klapper said automakers were determining how to package it in their vehicles, as well as working with Raytheon to customize the system for their brands.

Raytheon has been asked by one manufacturer to devise a version of Night Vision that would move with the steering wheel. Others are seeking different ways to incorporate the display.

Who are the other companies interested in using Night Vision? Mr. Klapper declined to name the competitors but did say that the next vehicle equipped with Night Vision will be on the road within a year and that it will be a luxury car.

The good news for consumers is that as soon as Raytheon gets into high-gear production of Night Vision, the cost should decline, possibly to about $1,000 to $1,200, said Gary Finley, a marketing manager for the company.

Raytheon says newer systems will cost less, perform better and be less prone to damage. The company has been talking to Cadillac customers about the performance of the system and forming focus groups, mailing surveys and visiting dealers.

Raytheon claims 35 percent said they bought the DeVille because it was the only car that had Night Vision. A majority of those people said they would not buy another car without it, according to Mr. Klapper. "They feel it is an absolute necessity."

Mr. Klapper says Raytheon, a defense contractor, has barely tapped Night Vision's potential. He said the current version is comparable to a 1950 TV set.

The potential has also attracted the attention of the Secret Service. Six new Cadillac limousines with Night Vision have been delivered for use by President Bush.

Night Vision will be made optional by Cadillac across its line in the next five years. Raytheon says upcoming versions of Night Vision will have cameras than can see farther ahead and project a clearer picture.

How will Raytheon improve Night Vision? Mr. Klapper said: "We have many defense technologies to pick from."

N. AMERICAN AUTO WRITERS SYNDICATE


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