Automatic emergency braking is standard on more cars, but domestic automakers lag

December 17, 2019

Some of the world’s top automakers have made life-saving technology known as automatic emergency braking (AEB) standard equipment on new vehicles in the U.S., three years early. 

The rare voluntary cooperation among 20 automakers was announced in 2015 with a target to make AEB standard on most new cars by Sept.1, 2022. This year, Audi and Volvo join Mercedes-Benz and Tesla in equipping all their light-passenger vehicles with the crash avoidance technology, the IIHS and Consumer Reports announced Tuesday. 

In 2019, Toyota, Volkswagen, BMW, Nissan, Honda, Subaru, and Mazda equipped more than eight out of 10 new vehicles with AEB. Domestic automakers are conspicuously absent from the list of early adopters. 

“If these automakers continue to lag behind, it will signal the need for mandatory standards to ensure that every new car buyer is able to get this life-saving technology,” David Friedman, vice president of advocacy at Consumer Reports, said in a statement that specifically addressed General Motors, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Mitsubishi, and Jaguar Land Rover. 

Ford improved from making AEB standard on just 6% of vehicles last year to 65% this year, largely due to redesigns of popular models such as the Ford Escape and Ford Explorer. The best-selling F-150 pickup truck also has it. 

General Motors has been slow to adopt AEB as standard. Up until this year, it offered it as an expensive option available on upper trim levels. AEB in the 2019 Chevy Blazer in Premier trim, which starts at $45,000, costs an extra $2,165 as part of the Driver Confidence II Package. The 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer will have it standard.  

AEB is considered to be the most important safety feature since electronic stability control, and is hailed like the seat belt in minimizing injuries and fatalities. AEB can not only mitigate crash damage, it also can prevent it altogether. When the sensors or cameras detect an imminent crash, say if the car in front of you weaves out of the lane to reveal a stranded car in the middle of the lane, the system applies the brakes automatically. Forward collision warning and AEB reduce rear-end crashes by half, according to the IIHS. The insurance-industry funded IIHS estimates that the AEB commitment will prevent 42,000 crashes and 20,000 injuries by 2025. 

The standard active safety equipment comes at a cost that is passed on to consumers, however, and is one of the contributing factors for the average new car price exceeding record highs at more than $38,000. Automakers such as Toyota, Nissan, and Mazda have been folding in the upcharge with other standard equipment on refreshed volume models, and increasing the price by only about $500, on average. 

More problematic is new car owners not knowing what their car does or is equipped to do. Every automaker has a different name for the bundle of typically six key active safety features that includes automatic emergency braking. Ford calls it Ford Co-Pilot360; Volvo calls it IntelliSafe; Nissan has Nissan Safety Shield 360. 

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