Mercedes-Benz and BMW will show the first night vision technologies to appear on cars in Europe at next month's IAA in Frankfurt, according to Automotive News Europe.

The new Mercedes S class features an infrared system that shows drivers obstacles on the road ahead during dark driving conditions.

Mercedes' system uses a module mounted in the car's headlights to project invisible infrared beams. These are picked up by a camera mounted on the inside of the windscreen and converted into visible images on a dashboard screen.

BMW's system has a thermal-imaging camera installed on the car's left front bumper that registers heat from obstacles such as pedestrians, cyclists or animals up to 300 metres ahead of the car. BMW's system will be offered in Europe on the face-lifted 7 series starting in the autumn.

Both carmakers say their systems will help save lives at night. BMW said 23,000 people are killed on Europe's roads in the dark every year, and 560,000 are injured.

"In Germany 50% of fatal car accidents happen at night, although 75% of driving is done during the day," a BMW spokesperson said.

Both BMW and Mercedes offer the systems as an option.

"Some 25% of orders for the new S class include night-vision systems.

That's a lot more than we anticipated," said a Mercedes spokesperson.

BMW and Mercedes chose different technology approaches.

BMW opted for a passive system produced by Swedish supplier Autoliv that uses heat-sensing far-infrared beams.

Mercedes employs an active near-infrared system supplied by Automotive Lighting.

BMW's system is priced at €1,950, which is €210 more than Mercedes' unit, but Mercedes likely makes more profit because its technology is cheaper.

Honda already fits a more sophisticated night vision system priced at €4,090 on its Legend medium-premium sedan sold in Japan. But it will not offer the system when it brings the Legend to Europe next year.

Suppliers say Honda is having difficulty meeting demand.

In 2000, General Motors started offering a night-vision system on the Cadillac De Ville luxury sedan from 2000 but dropped it last year after demand plummeted.

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