While cost may be of top concern to automakers and suppliers, engineers believe that consumers are most keyed in to safety.
Chemical giant DuPont Co.'s annual survey of automakers and suppliers attending the Society of Automotive Engineers 2004 World Congress, held March 8-11 in Detroit, typically shows cost reduction topping the list of worries within the industry.
This year is no exception, with 33 percent of those surveyed listing price, compared with 13 percent for safety and 12 percent each for alternative powertrains and fuel economy.
When it comes to what they believe drivers want, though, engineers and others said safety is tops, with 66 percent listing it as No. 1 for consumers, compared with 47 percent for better vehicle performance.
Reflecting that, safety was on display for the annual event, from the makers of crash-test dummies and braking systems to DuPont's own safety-glass programs using a plastic barrier to keep occupants inside a car during a collision.
Larry Denton, president and chief executive officer of Dura Automotive Systems Inc., touted his company's ability to produce a seat belt linked to the seat itself, which gives carmakers more options for belt placement to improve restraint.
``We have to do more than make vehicles safer through passive safety measures such as air bags,'' said Masami Manabe, managing director of the engineering research and development center for Denso Corp. of Kariya, Japan.
The company already makes a ``pre-collision'' system for Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus LS 430 that automatically pre-tightens seat belts and reduces vehicle speed when sensors detect an impending crash. Denso used SAE as a stage to push for even more safety improvements by utilizing information available from active sensors.
``Technical specifications such as communication and interface protocols should be harmonized so that the systems can be made available for use in different countries and by various companies, leading to collision reduction and even crash prevention,'' said Doug Patton, senior vice president of engineering for Denso's International America group.