The North American automotive unit of Continental A.G. has launched a nationwide tour, its second since 2003, to promote Electronic Stability Control (ESC) systems and other vehicle safety equipment it manufactures.
``We are in the business of designing and producing products that help prevent crashes and save lives,'' said Bill Kozyra, president and CEO of Continental Automotive Systems North America, at the tour's May 10 launch in Washington. ``Educating consumers about why they are important and how they work is fundamental to what we do.''
The main feature of the Conti tour is the company's newly refurbished tractor-trailer with revamped features, including a virtual-reality ride-and-drive highlighting the vehicle safety advantages of ESC. A similar ride was featured in the 2003 tour, but the new version is considerably more elaborate and realistic.
Interactive educational displays complete the new features of the Conti tractor-trailer. The company did not mention the specific stops the truck will make, except to say it will visit major cities and other venues. The 2003 tour took five months and encompassed 15 cities.
Accompanying Mr. Kozyra on the platform were representatives of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, all of whom expressed the highest admiration for the ESC system.
``Vehicles have been made safer and stronger, but drivers still make mistakes,'' said Mark Rosenker, acting chairman of the NTSB. ``The technologies you are looking at today are a change from mitigating the damage from an accident to beginning a program of technically assisting drivers for prevention of that accident.''
The importance of ESC cannot be overestimated, according to Russ Rader, IIHS director of communications.
``ESC is in a rare league,'' he said. ``Only safety belts and air bags provide the life-saving protection that ESC does.'' The IIHS estimated in a 2004 study that if every vehicle were equipped with ESC, fatal single-vehicle crashes would drop by more than 50 percent, saving some 7,000 lives annually.
The University of Michigan released a report last month, demonstrating that ESC would reduce single-vehicle crashes in passenger cars by 30.5 percent and in sport-utility vehicles by 49.5 percent. ESC also would reduce rollover by 39.7 percent in cars and 72.9 percent in SUVs, the report said.
ESC is standard or optional equipment on more than 150 different vehicle models in the U.S., representing about 25 percent of new vehicles, according to Mr. Kozyra. Conti expects to have ESC available on 90 percent of new vehicles by 2010, he said.
The cost of ESC has plummeted in the past few years, with the system available on some models for as little as $290, Mr. Kozyra said.
Among other safety features now available from Conti are:
* Active Rollover Protection, which like ESC builds on anti-lock brake systems;
* Lane Departure Warning, which uses a sophisticated camera and an image processing system to warn drivers when they are drifting out of their lanes; and
* Adaptive Cruise Control, which allows the vehicle to react on its own to maintain a safe following distance in traffic, up to and including a full stop.
In April 2006, Continental A.G., Continental Automotive Systems' parent company, announced it was purchasing Motorola Inc.'s automotive electronics business for about $1 billion in cash.