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Consumer Reports finds it costs thousands more to a add ‘critical’ vehicle safety feature

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Market Trends | Technology
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A new analysis from Consumer Reports (CR) has found that last year’s top-selling pickup trucks and SUVs didn’t come standard with blind spot warning (BSW).

Fourteen 2022 model year heavy passenger vehicles were assessed by CR with “heavy” defined as those that weigh 4,000 pounds or more than other cars. CR has found that heavier vehicles tend to have a harder time avoiding crashes and perform worse on CR’s emergency handling and braking tests compared to smaller vehicles.

CR considers BSW a critical safety feature for all vehicles, especially for larger, heavier vehicles which can pose a greater risk to others on the road.

The vehicles CR assessed included the 2022 Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota 4Runner, Chevrolet Tahoe, Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado 1500, GMC Sierra 1500, Ram 1500, Toyota Highlander, four-door Jeep Wrangler, Toyota Tundra, Toyota Tacoma, Ford Bronco, and Tesla Model Y.

Pickup trucks and large SUVs made up 7 of the top 10 models sold in the U.S. in 2022, according to CR.

Three SUVs — the Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Toyota 4Runner — came standard with BSW on the lowest trim.

Designed to detect other vehicles in blind spots and alert drivers to their presence, CR is calling on automakers to include BSW as a standard feature across all vehicle trim levels without additional cost to consumers. “Doing so would eliminate the additional costs to consumers and ensure that this technology is available to help prevent fatalities and injuries and reduce the economic burdens associated with avoidable crashes,” CR said.

None of the brands that were assessed had BSW standard on all trims. The models accounted for more than 2 million sales, or 15% of total new car sales last year. None of the six pickup trucks included BSW as standard on the lowest trim.

On average, consumers paid $1,600 more to buy a vehicle equipped with BSW on the lowest trim, where available.

The least a consumer could pay for an upgrade to the lowest trim with BSW was $2,400 on the Toyota Highlander and the most expensive was $28,600 for the GMC Sierra 1500. The Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and Ram 1500 also required an increase in cost of over $20,000 to have BSW.

“This analysis did not look at the volume of specific trims sold for each model, or how many consumers opted to purchase BSW when it was not included as standard. In at least some of the models that do not include BSW with the lowest trim, installation rates of BSW are low. For example, the Chevrolet Silverado had installation rates of 22.6% in the 2022 model year, and the Ram Pick-Up 1500 had 28.8%,” wrote Julia Friedberg, CR senior safety policy analyst and author of the analysis report. “It would be useful for future research to capture these metrics to get a more precise estimate of how much consumers are actually paying for safety features each year and to further examine how much of a barrier pricing is to adoption of the technology.

“For example, we know that approximately 654,000 F-Series trucks were sold in 2022. If each of these customers opted for the lowest trim on the F-150 and wanted Ford’s equivalent of BSW, that would amount to approximately $951,507,000 – or nearly $1 billion – spent on a lifesaving feature that every new vehicle should come equipped with.”

Of the eleven vehicles without BSW on the lowest trim level, CR found that BSW cannot be added to five, including Toyota, Jeep, and Ford models.

Ford lists Co-Pilot 360 Technology as standard equipment on the base Bronco trim. However, Co-Pilot 360 Technology differs from Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 — its suite of advanced safety and driver assistance systems, and the standard Co-Pilot 360 on the lowest trim of the Bronco does not have BSW, CR reports.

The optional Co-Pilot 360 feature on a higher trim does include BSW. CR says the distinction is difficult to discern on Ford’s website.

BSW, as CR defines it, is not available in any Tesla models.

CR found that among models for which BSW was an add-on to a package consumers were charged significantly higher prices at checkout, ranging from $650 to about $1,700 above the price listed during the shopping process.

Of the top five selling models in CR’s analysis, only one — the Toyota Tacoma — had the same checkout and listed prices on the lowest trim level where it was available.

“The practice of ‘bundling’ safety features with non-safety features, forcing consumers to pay for both, is still in place, particularly among top-selling models,” CR said. “Even the lowest-priced trims of the top four selling models require consumers to buy non-safety features to get BSW, raising the price by hundreds to thousands of dollars.”

Friedberg added, “Forcing consumers to pay extra for lifesaving features can be costly, both in terms of their money and their safety. This report quantifies the monetary cost to consumers of paying extra for blind spot warning.

“The safety cost — when people don’t get vital features because of the price — is less apparent but it means lives lost, injuries suffered, and a myriad of expenses that consumers are forced to bear because of preventable crashes. Features like blind spot warning technology should be equipped in all new vehicles and all trim levels at no extra cost, just like seat belts and airbags come standard.”

2020 CR member survey found that 56% of drivers who used BSW reported that it had helped prevent a crash.

“Our ratings reward vehicle models with a bonus point in CR’s Overall Score if all trim levels come standard with BSW, along with a related system, rear cross traffic warning,” CR said. “CR has a long history of advocating for automakers to include proven safety features as standard in all new vehicles and CR’s latest findings on BSW reinforce that position.”

2022 CR survey of 2,180 American drivers who said they planned to buy or lease a vehicle in the next year revealed that 82% consider BSW at least somewhat important to have on their next vehicle. Fifty-three percent of the prospective car buyers or lessees ranked it as extremely or very important to them.

CR believes safety shouldn’t be a luxury.

“While some critics argue that making safety features come standard will raise prices, CR found that safety improvements did not lead to a statistically significant cost increase in vehicle prices when adjusting for inflation, based on data from model years 2003 to 2021,” CR said.

The finding was based on a statistical analysis of data from real-world vehicle purchases made for CR’s testing program. The analysis found no systemic, statistically significant increase in inflation-adjusted vehicle prices across either vehicle classes or vehicle nameplates during the designated timeframe.


Featured image: Stock photo of a vehicle with blind spot monitoring. (Credit: Jorge Villalba/iStock)

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