Toyota Motor will turn up the pressure on Detroit vehicle makers another notch by bolstering the safety of its sport utility vehicles, equipping all models, including the entry-level RAV4, with electronic stability control systems, the Detroit News said.

Because of their high centre of gravity, SUVs are more prone to rollovers than cars that ride lower to the ground, and the devices intervene to prevent the type of skidding that often precedes deadly rollovers, the newspaper said, noting that, each year, rollovers account for about a quarter of US fatalities and more than half of SUV occupant fatalities.

The Detroit News said US vehicle makers generate big profits from SUV sales, but trail many foreign rivals when it comes to equipping the vehicles with expensive high-tech safety features such as electronic stability control which, according to suppliers, costs $400-$500 a vehicle, or a bit less if the vehicle is already equipped with anti-lock braking.

That, the newspaper said, compares with as little as $50 for a tyre-pressure-monitoring system, one of the federally-mandated requirements to come out of the Ford-Firestone rollover scandal.

The Detroit News said safety experts are pushing manufacturers to at least equip SUVs with stability control systems. Luxury SUVs sold by Mercedes-Benz and BMW have long been fitted with the feature but now Toyota is upping the ante by providing them as standard equipment on an SUV priced under $20,000, the paper added.

The Detroit News said US vehicle makers offer stability control systems as standard or optional on larger SUVs but not on their smaller models. Rival Japanese brands take a similar approach, the paper said, and claim few buyers are prepared to pay for the expensive option.

Toyota spokesman John Hanson told the newspaper the company has extended vehicle stability control across its SUV range to generate economies of scale.