LAS VEGAS -- Lexus came to the Consumer Electronics Show here Monday (Jan. 7) with a press conference of shocking brevity and exceptional candor, as Mark Templin, senior vice president and general manager of Toyota's Lexus group admitted he had nothing to sell at the nation's largest annual technology show.
Instead, Templin said consumer technology has advanced to a point where the automobile industry can contemplate the fulfillment of "an impossible dream: the elimination of traffic fatalities." Toward that goal, said Templin, Lexus will open in November an advanced safety proving ground in Japan. This site will augment the work being done at Toyota's Higashi-Fuji Technical Center. Templin added that safety research will also undergo a stronger emphasis at the Toyota Research Institute North America in Ann Arbor, Mich..
Another element of the initiative is a sort of accident-prevention supercar, an advanced active safety research vehicle, a model of which occupied the CES stage behind Templin.
Lexus displays a model of advanced integrated safety research vehicle .
Templin stated flatly that "autopilot" is not the solution to reducing the 32,000 U.S. road deaths (one in six caused by distracted driving) that occurred last year. He said that cars driving themselves, with a passive driver and passengers, are not likely to enter the market in the foreseeable future. He admitted, instead that machines on the highway, at the current stage of development, can do only three things by themselves -- park, stay in a lane and follow traffic.
Templin said Lexus' research project does not envision an auto-piloted car, nor does it even anticipate a clearly defined conclusion. "This is a pure research project," he said. "But with a strong sense of what is to come."
Templin rattled off a host of technical advances to the combined electronics and mechanics of motor vehicles that will enhance safety. But he emphasized that "a more skillful driver is a safer driver." Lexus, he said, is focused on developing instruments and warning devices that increase the driver's vigilance and skill. He described Lexus' interest in "a holistic blend of people, vehicles and the automotive environment."
Ultimately, said Templin, Toyota and Lexus will make a car that does not so much drive itself like something out of "The Jetsons,"as respond "intelligently" to driving conditions and attune the driver to changes in those conditions that dramatically improve the safety of the open road.