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Friday, Oct. 19, 2012

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Radar contact: A Nissan car swerves automatically to avoid a dummy using the automaker's new "autonomous emergency steering" technology Oct. 12 in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture. KYODO

Nissan unveils proactive steering safety tech


By YURI KAGEYAMA
AP

YOKOSUKA, Kanagawa Pref. — Electronic steering that completely bypasses the mechanical link of a clutch, vehicles that are smart enough to park themselves and others that swerve automatically to avoid pedestrians were among the new safety technologies unveiled Wednesday by Nissan Motor Co.

Nissan Executive Vice President Mitsuhiko Yamashita said the latest safety advancements are proactive, unlike air bags and other "passive" features triggered by a crash.

Next-generation steering uses electronic signals to control wheels, rather than a mechanical link. The technology is set to be introduced in an Infiniti luxury model within a year, and would be a world first for a commercially produced car. In the auto industry, the technology is being touted as the biggest innovation in steering since the widespread adoption of power-assisted steering, which uses hydraulics to make turning the wheels easier.

Nissan executives say electronic steering is safer because drivers tend to overcompensate, such as when traveling in gusty wind, and veer too much. They say the feature also adds to the driver's psychological sense of security, which in turn contributes to safety because stress is often a significant factor in accidents.

With the technology, sensations of bumpy roads are mitigated and steering becomes superquick and fine-tuned, according to Nissan. Vehicles equipped with electronic steering will still come with a mechanical clutch as a backup that kicks in if the electronic system fails.

Nissan also displayed its "autonomous emergency steering," designed to avoid collisions through turns when braking would be too late.

Although many automakers, including Toyota Motor Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Volkswagen AG, offer automatic braking, Nissan's still experimental system takes the idea a step further to steer away in unexpected situations, such as a pedestrian suddenly moving into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

But Yamashita acknowledged the technology, which relies on radars and cameras, is still incomplete, and that vehicles could still crash into something else just as they are steering away from pedestrians.

Nissan also showed off nifty parking technology that senses if the driver mistakenly steps on the accelerator instead of the brakes, and corrects the error. Another was automated steering so the vehicle can park without the driver lifting a finger. In a recent demonstration for reporters at a Nissan facility, a Leaf electric vehicle turned on its own and backed into a charging station.

Toru Hatano, an analyst at IHS Automotive, believes that safety technology such as automatic braking to avoid crashes will become more popular even in cheaper models. He said the feature that detects when a driver pushes on the gas pedal by mistake would likely be a hit in aging societies like Japan's.

"It's an effective way for automakers to differentiate themselves and appeal to consumers," Hatano said.

Nissan said it is well on its way to achieving its target of halving deaths and serious injuries from traffic accidents involving its vehicles by 2015, compared with 1995 levels. Nissan's goal is to ultimately reduce the death toll to zero. Some 1.3 million people die in car wrecks every year.

Three-wheel EV debuts

kyodo

Mitsuoka Motor Co. on Thursday started selling three-wheeled electric vehicles for commercial delivery of small cargoes.

The carmaker, based in the city of Toyama, said the Like-T3 vehicle is able to carry up to 100 kg and once fully charged, can run between 40 and 60 km at a maximum speed of 50 kph with two people aboard.



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