A senior executive at automotive supplier Bosch claims that electronic stability controls are a better safety feature than airbags, according to a report in Automotive News Europe.

"ESP can save more lives than the airbag," said Wolfgang Chur, head of automotive sales at the German supplier, which expects huge growth in demand for electronic stability programme systems in the near future as consumers learn their value.

ESP is installed on more than 50% of new cars built in Germany, but only 20% of new cars produced in France. In the USA and Japan, the installation rate of ESP is still less than 10%, he said.

But Chur believes that ESP's value in preventing rollovers will cause rapid growth in the USA soon. He said there is growing consumer awareness of rollover-accident deaths in sport-utilities.

He said Bosch plans to increase production of ESP systems from three million units in 2002 to 3.6 million in 2003 to retain market leadership in the segment.

Bosch launched ESP in 1995. By the end of 2002 it had produced eight million units.

ESP, which utilises sensors and actuators from ABS and traction control systems, takes inputs from brake pressure, yaw rate and wheel speed sensors to determine traction at each corner. It then provides the optimum amount of stability and grip in extreme lateral movement situations, Automotive News Europe said.