Electronics built into a car have always cost much more than those purchased from aftermarket suppliers. I’m old enough to remember when GM charged $500 for its top head unit back in the 1980s. This money, at least $1,000 in today’s dollars, got you a “graphic equalizer” and an auto-reverse tape deck with Dolby noise suppression. More recently nav systems have cost about $2,000 in the car even as the price of equally capable portable units fell to a tenth of this amount.
As I input pricing for the 2012 Chevrolet Equinox, I couldn’t help but notice that General Motors has replaced the navigation system in many of them, substituting an SD card-based unit for a hard disk drive-based unit. A touch screen also appears to take the place of voice activation with the new unit. The lower cost is passed on to the car buyer. The old unit listed for $2,145, the new one for $795. Still substantially more than a good portable unit, but no longer by an order of magnitude. On top of the price reduction, the card readers should be more durable than a disk drive.
Also on the 2012 Chevrolet Equinox, GM is offering a new safety option, a forward collision alert bundled with a lane departure warning. Both should assist drivers whose attention is wavering. While both features have been available on luxury cars for a few years, the news here is that they’re available on a relatively inexpensive vehicle at a low price, only $295. Previously, forward collision warning was often a subsidiary feature to adaptive cruise control, as it relies on the same sensors. Judging from the lower price and absence of adaptive cruise control (which automatically maintains a set distance behind the car ahead), it seems like GM is using a less expensive, less sophisticated sensor. Not a problem, as long as it works. Avoid one moderate accident in the lives of every ten cars so equipped, and the option pays for itself. If they aren’t already, insurance companies should provide discounts.