General Motors and Ford reportedly said on Thursday they'll offer electronic stability control systems as standard equipment on 1.8 million sport utility vehicles in 2005, a significant safety enhancement for the popular vehicles.

According to the Associated Press, GM said the vehicles include the Chevrolet Tahoe, Suburban, Avalanche and Trailblazer; GMC Envoy; Hummer H3l Saab 9-7X; and Buick Rainier - the Hummer H2 will get the system in 2006. The Cadillac Escalade and GMC Yukon Denali already feature standard stability control.

Ford reportedly said over 500,000 of its sport utility vehicles will be equipped with the company's anti-rollover system by the end of 2005, and it plans to try to market the technology to other automakers.

AP noted that Ford said last summer it would add the stability control system as standard equipment to the 2005 Ford Explorer, Mercury Mountaineer, Lincoln Aviator and Lincoln Navigator, but it didn't provide estimates on quantities.

The anti-rollover system also will be standard on the 2005 Volvo XC90 and available as an option on the 2005 Ford Expedition, AP added - the automaker said the equipment will cost $US595 on the Expedition and about a quarter of Expedition customers are expected to buy it.

Associated Press noted that Ford began offering the stability control system in 2003 on the Volvo XC90 and expanded it the next year to the Lincoln SUVs.

The news agency said that, last month, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released a study that said stability control systems could save up to 7,000 lives each year if they were standard equipment on all vehicles - findings that mirrored those of an earlier federal study.

"Except for the growing use of seat belts, we have rarely seen a technology that brings such a positive safety benefit to the driving public," GM North America President Gary Cowger said, according to AP, which noted that Ford has said the stabilising technology also will be available on its 15-passenger Econoline vans starting with the 2006 model year - a step designed to increase the safety of a type of vehicle the federal government and some motorists' lawyers contend has a significant roll-over risk. GM made electronic stability control standard on 15-passenger vans in 2003, the report added.

Separately, the Electronic Stability Control Coalition said in a statement that the availability of Electronic Stability Control (ESC) increased in model year 2005, as vehicle manufacturers either made the automotive safety feature standard or expanded its availability. Notably, the number of vehicles that retail at or under $US25,000 offering ESC has increased by more than 100%.

"The 2005 model year list includes more vehicles priced at or under $25,000 than ever before, which is great news for the average car buyer," said coalition chairman Rich Golitko. "We are encouraged that ESC availability is growing across the board and regard it as an important step toward reducing the number of crashes on America's roads."

The coalition said a recent study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), concluded that ESC reduced single-vehicle crashes in passenger cars by 35%, and single-vehicle crashes in SUVs by 67%. Another study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found ESC effective in reducing the risk of fatal passenger vehicle crashes by 34%.

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