Aboul-Nasr, 17th August 2005
was the first to launch the Night Vision
system for MY 2000. It used thermal
imaging, or infrared, technology. This
"thermal imaging" device creates
pictures based on heat energy emitted by
objects in the viewed scene. Everything
emits heat to some degree. But humans,
animals and moving vehicles are more
visible in the image due to their high
thermal contrast with the background. The
virtual image that is produced looks
something like a black and white
photographic negative -- hotter objects
appear white and cooler objects appear
Toulouse, France - In the coming
few weeks, at least two car companies will start to show
us, and quite legitimately, the "light" to a new
generation of night vision systems. BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
Others will certainly follow soon.
Remember airbags, ABS, ESP, Brake-Assist...
But to be fair, before Lexus offered
its night vision system in the LX470 (since 2003), Honda
in its Japanese Legend (since end 2004), and long before
Mercedes-Benz (on the new generation S-Class) and BMW (in
the 7 Series by end 2005), General Motors was the first
car manufacturer to offer the Night Vision system, as an
option too, for the Cadillac DeVille, back in 2000.
Based on Raytheon's defense technology,
that infrared night vision application was derived for the
automotive sector, to start in a Cadillac, "Standard
of the World" as some might recall.
However, although the night vision
application included Hummer's H1 and H2 at a later stage,
GM discontinued that option last autumn (was priced at
US$2,250) due to a lack of demand... precisely when other
automakers and suppliers were preparing to launch their
night vision (s) assault!
Although the night vision was offered
later with some GM models as an option from L-3
Communications technology supplier (for
around US$3,400), which bought Raytheon Commercial
Infrared division last year, the fact is that GM
discontinued what some of the most serious carmakers seem
to find as an interesting technical image booster and
Sure, being the first auto-application
of a technology known for years in defense, security and
other fields, the early night vision automotive system
suffered mainly from lack of precision and high production
costs, before the arrival of the new wave of active
and passive infrared systems, or NIR
and FIR infrared, as the
new automotive glossaries will start to familiarize us
Amid all this new wave of night vision
innovations, a little thought goes to what might be a
missed opportunity for GM, which could have developed by
now versions 2.0 or even 3.0 of a system it originally got
from Raytheon with an exclusivity rights (in the
automotive field) for four model years (Automotive News,
28 June 2004).
How much could such evolution
strengthen Cadillac's technological image in the luxury
Let's put it in a different way: did
the night vision really fail commercially because of the
inherent weaknesses of its first generation, or, at least
to some extend, because of the choice of the
"mature", heavy and front-wheel drive DeVille to
carry such an avant-garde technology in 2000?
Was DeVille the right
"vehicle" to launch that technology?. Was the
clientele of the DeVille really the most tech-passionate
generation to be selected?
Even in light trucks like Hummer, night
vision will only show operational advantages, not
technological superiority to compete with luxury symbols
like BMWs and Mercedes-Benz sedans. By the way, why did
Mercedes-Benz decide to launch its night vision in the new
generation of its flagship, the new S-Class, not in
the other new generation Mercedes-Benz vehicle, the new
M-Class? An SUV can be luxurious, be it a Hummer or an M
Class, but ultimate luxury symbols are still sedans,
Worse, Cadillac was not the only brand
to have missed such a high-tech image booster opportunity,
if GM kept developing and enhancing its night vision
How about Saab which is begging for
image ammunitions to fight, or survive in the tough
European luxury market?
An image association between a brand
like Saab, known for its aeronautical heritage, and a
technology derived, like the night vision, from modern air
fighters! Wouldn't it contribute with a much needed thrust
of fighting spirit to boost Saab's image, not in the
showrooms, but rather were it counts most: in the minds of
a young affluent target audience?
Yes, the GMT360-platform-based 9-7X,
the Subaru Tribeca-based 9-6X and the Impreza-based 9-2X
can get Saab some volume (the scale of which remains to be
seen), but they cannot buy it the technological guns to
face luxury admirals like Audi, Mercedes-Benz or BMW.
Night vision is certainly not the only
opportunity to lead... or to maintain a leadership in this
very case. For it is never too late, if GM really wants to
put Cadillac and Saab where they deserve to be, that's if
it still believes that it can sell some day cars for their
qualities, not just their incentives.
Well, it's just a thought.