Consumers show considerably more interest in new safety-related features than in entertainment, comfort or convenience features, according to the JD Power and Associates 2002 US Automotive Emerging Technologies Study.

JD Power annually seeks automotive consumer feedback on a list of new and emerging automotive features to assist manufacturers in better understanding which features are most desired and how much value consumers place on each feature.

Among the 25 features measured in the 2002 study, nine of the top 10 most desired items are designed to enhance vehicle or occupant safety. The low-tyre-pressure monitor is the most popular feature measured.

"Given the high level of interest US consumers also had with run-flat tyres, it is clear that they have concerns about the safety of their tyres and are looking for technological advancements to alleviate some of the fear generated by high-profile tyre recalls," said JD Power senior research manager Jeremy Bowler.

Other safety-related features at the top of consumers' lists include anti-whiplash seats. Also popular is a night vision system that uses infrared technology.

External surround sensing, vehicle stability control, adaptive cruise control and headlight systems that adapt to current driving conditions are also safety-related features in which consumers showed strong interest.

"Unlike airbags and seat belts that help protect vehicle occupants after an accident has taken place, the majority of safety-related features that consumers most desire actively assist the driver in avoiding an accident in the first place," said Bowler.

"However, consumers will only pay so much for such features. Interest levels drop on nearly all of the features measured once consumers are shown the likely price of that feature on their next vehicle. For example, while night vision is one of the most desired features in the study before price is introduced, it plummets to near the bottom of the list when consumers are shown the current market price of $1,800."

Among the non-safety-related features measured, consumers are most interested in digital premium surround sound in their vehicles, made popular in home theatre systems. Consumers also express a strong interest in driver-recognition systems and advanced temperature-management systems that maintain a constant preset temperature in the vehicle much like a home's thermostat.

Many of the features in the study that do not generate much interest in general do much better with key demographic and niche groups. For example, women with children are very interested in rear-seat entertainment and occupant-monitoring systems. Young men are much more likely to be interested in electronic information and entertainment features such as navigation, in-vehicle Internet, flexible format audio players and satellite radio. Older consumers are more likely to show interest in personal assistance services.

One futuristic feature that did not necessarily fare well in the study is "drive-by-wire" technology.

"Consumers aren't ready to give up the traditional steering wheel and pedal controls, exemplifying the old axiom, `if it ain't broke, don't fix it,'" Bowler said. "Some consumers also express concerns about the reliability of an unproven new technology for vehicles. Drive-by-wire may have to be proven first in a secondary system, such as the parking brake, before consumers grow more comfortable with the idea of replacing the traditional primary control systems in their vehicles."