Robert LaGuerra finds the new Volkswagen Passat an interesting car. Why? Because it is a trend-setter; perhaps the first mid-priced car to offer such a wide range of highly integrated, sophisticated safety technologies. As well as "an enormous amount" of passive safety features, the Passat offers optional adaptive cruise control, electronic stability control and an electronic parking brake.

"This car suggests two important directions in automotive safety design," says LaGuerra, senior automotive industry analyst at ABI Research (Oyster Bay, NY). "First, it sees the inclusion of active safety systems--those that attempt to prevent collisions rather than minimize their damage--in a midrange auto. Secondly, that inclusion means the use of ‘x-by-wire' technology, using electronics to accomplish many functions previously accomplished mechanically."

LaGuerra has authored several recent studies that examine the global automotive safety systems marketplace. They provide a strategic and technological overview of all the major technologies being used to improve automotive safety. LaGuerra examines current and emerging safety systems at both component and system levels; discusses legislation and regulation; identifies business issues and market trends; and offers forecasts for a large number of technologies and markets.

"Across the industry, safety systems are evolving and maturing," notes LaGuerra. "We already see them in some consumer vehicles, and they will increase rapidly in the next couple of years. They will become a huge worldwide market."

LaGuerra says short-range radar recently got a boost in Europe, as the European Union opened up spectrum for automotive use. DaimlerChrysler (Stuttgart, Germany) backed the move, and the technology will show up in new Mercedes-Benz's PRE-SAFE systems.

In the United States, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA, Washington, DC) has issued regulations that will see tire-pressure monitoring systems being phased in starting with 2006 models.

"Using a variety of sensors and processors, blind spot detection, lane-departure warning, driver monitoring and pedestrian detection are all headed for passenger vehicles in the near future," claims LaGuerra.