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Correcting the Record on NA Luxury Brand ESC Implementation

October 23, 2009 by markarndt

The North American (NA) implementation of Electronic Stability Control was detailed in the 2008 Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) paper “Industry Implementation of Automotive Electronic Stability Control (ESC) Systems,” by Nicholas Durisek and Kevan Granat of Dynamic Analysis Group LLC. The Paper compares the luxury vehicle brands Mercedes, BMW and Lexus/Toyota and draws conclusions based upon this comparison. The problem is that Lexus/Toyota is two different brands owned by one manufacture and only Lexus is a luxury brand.

Automotive News Data records, in 2002 Toyota sold 1,756,127 vehicles in the United States; Lexus accounted for 234,109 sales. Also in 2002, the BMW division of the BMW group sold 232,032 vehicles and Mercedes sold 213,225 vehicles.

Comparing Mercedes, BMW and only Lexus passenger cars reveals a disturbing and diverging trend in ESC as standard equipment implementation rates beginning in 1998. Mercedes and BMW were essentially at zero implementation prior to 1998 and 100% implementation for 2000 and on, while Lexus using yearly sales recorded in Automotive News Data had ESC implemented as standard equipment in its passenger cars at the rate of 43% in 2000, 40% in 2001, 39% in 2002 and 37% in 2003. Mercedes and BMW saw the value of ESC and quickly implemented the technology in their entire North American fleet. Lexus missed the opportunity of ESC and delayed full standardized implementation by at least 8 years.

Comparing Mercedes, BMW and only Lexus, instead of Lexus and Toyota together, reflects a Toyota marketing strategy that left many Lexus owners with far inferior vehicles when it came to the benefits of ESC. ESC has been described as providing safety benefit second only to seatbelts. The underlying technology of using individual wheel brake application intervention when drivers lose control of their vehicles began development at Bosch in the late 1980s and was first commercialized in their home countries by Toyota and Mercedes in 1995.

According to Durisek and Granat, “Mercedes’ implementation included less than 2000 vehicles for each of the first three years an ESC system was offered, 1996 through 1998. Those units amounted to less than 2% of the total number of vehicles sold by Mercedes. By model year 2000, Mercedes equipped all models with an ESC system as standard equipment except the SLK. An ESC system was not available on the SLK until 2001…. Implementation by BMW similarly began with relatively low volumes in 1998 and was increased to 100% by model year 2001…. Toyota’s North American implementation of ESC systems as standard equipment began with its Lexus brand in 1998 and included over 50,000 units, more than any other manufacturer for that model year. In model year 2006, the number of Toyota vehicles with an ESC system as standard equipment was over 640,000 units, more than double the number of units sold by Mercedes or BMW.”

Durisek and Granat concluded, “The phase-in of ESC system technology by lower volume manufacturers (i.e. luxury brands) took five to six years before having 100% ESC system implementation into their vehicle lines.” However, according to the Durisek and Granat data, BMW’s North American implementation of ESC as standard equipment took four years with over 95% implementation in three years (by 2000). Mercedes’ implementation of ESC as standard equipment took six years with almost 95% implementation in five years (by 2000). Mercedes had less than 2% implementation in 1998, almost 95% standard equipment implementation in 2000 and in 2001 was at 100% implementation. Not to ignore the importance of full implementation, but Mercedes went from essentially zero to almost complete in two years. For both BMW and Mercedes the final standard implementation of ESC was on a single model with low production. Lexus began implementation in 1998, and completed implementation of ESC as standard equipment in 2007, a full ten years. The last Lexus model with ESC standard was its highest production volume ES line which in 2002, according to the Automotive News Data, accounted for 71,450 Lexus sales – almost half of all Lexus passenger cars sold in 2002.

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