The catchphrase among Japanese automakers these days is “greater safety performance.”
To succeed in the increasingly competitive domestic market, the carmakers are introducing a greater number of vehicles with advanced safety functions that take advantage of the latest technology.
On Thursday, Honda Motor Co. unveiled the remodeled Life minicar, which features a new body structure to better protect the cabin space during head-on collisions.
“I think safety is becoming one of the important factors for users to choose a car and (for makers) to differentiate products from rival models,” Honda President Takeo Fukui said.
The new Life has three special impact absorbers around the engine to efficiently disperse and absorb the impact of a vehicle-to-vehicle collision.
The carmaker said the minicar’s impact-absorption ability is 50 percent better than that of the previous model.
The 660cc Life goes on sale Friday. It will be priced between 950,000 yen and 1.28 million yen.
Honda said it will apply the newly developed body structure to its other models.
Industry analysts say increased competition and technological innovations in areas such as electronics and telecommunications have helped automakers produce vehicles with advanced safety functions.
Earlier this year, Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co. and Honda began installing precrash safety systems in their luxury models.
The Toyota Harrier sport utility vehicle, for instance, has a system that measures the distance between the SUV and a vehicle in front. It also monitors the speed of both cars through a built-in radar.
If the radar judges a collision is imminent, a brake-assist function is automatically activated, reducing the SUV’s speed and prompting the driver to take crash-avoidance measures. The front seat belts also are tightened automatically to protect the driver and passenger.
Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., which makes Subaru vehicles, meanwhile unveiled a fully automatic car late last month. The Intelligent Vehicle X drives automatically, guided by a global positioning system. Although still under development, the vehicle is viewed as a step toward the ultimate in safe driving.
To judge road conditions and avoid obstacles, the Intelligent Vehicle X is equipped with two video cameras and a millimeter-wave radar, which can function in even the worst weather.
Fuji Heavy President Kyoji Takenaka said automatic driving systems might be in use within 10 years, mainly on highways or special roads designed for such vehicles.
“Because the safety technology will be able to help drivers in bad weather, such as snow storms, driving will become more pleasurable,” he said. “I think safety functions can appeal to users.”
Seiji Sugiura, an analyst at Nomura Securities Co., said creating better safety functions can help attract buyers and differentiate products.
“As more and more people opt for environmentally friendly vehicles, making safer vehicles is becoming important to carmakers as a means to increase sales,” he said.