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Cadillac launched it first
Night Vision... just a thought

By Bechara Aboul-Nasr, 17th August 2005

Cadillac 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 black.

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 opportunity.

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 with.

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 segments?

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, strongly-branded 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 system.

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.

Related Topics:
Two main categories of night view systems, each with its own fortes

Night Vision: Cadillac to Lexus, Honda, BMW & Mercedes-Benz

Honda Legend (Japan) Intelligent Night Vision System

Siemens combines head-up display with Night Vision

BMW's FIR Night Vision system for the 7-Series

Night Vision in the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class

Automotive Lighting equips the new S-Class

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