By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
The rear-vision backup camera category is still in its infancy, but is expected to gain traction with consumers as the products become simpler to install and lower in price, suppliers said.
At present, rear-vision cameras are growing modestly after five years on the market because of no clear, easy method of installation for the cameras and no set format for mounting the monitor in view of the driver. Also, some of the big-box retailers have steered clear of the product for this reason. Further, the segment has been impacted by sluggish SUV sales.
But suppliers are trying to simplify the products and more large retailers are expected to enter the category next year.
Said Tom Malone, Audiovox mobile electronics senior VP, "Backup cameras are getting more interest from some of the larger retailers who look at it as a new category … The whole category is not even close to defining itself because the mounting solutions for the camera are not simple," he said. But, he noted, "Sales are starting to pick up. By mid-2007, if you are in mobile electronics, you are going to be carrying cameras." At present, Circuit City carries a camera but Best Buy reportedly does not.
A VizuaLogic spokesman agreed that "installation is really the limiting factor." He expects that wireless systems will begin to hit the market this year, which could spur sales.
Rear-vision cameras generally mount in the rear of the car and send an image to a screen in view of the driver. The driver gets a clear picture of what is happening behind the car before backing up, which is particularly important in SUVs and trucks with large blind spots.
Suppliers estimate backup camera sales are currently approximately 100,000 units per year.
The need for the cameras has attracted national attention from child safety advocates and the U.S. Congress. According to advocacy group Kids and Cars, each week two children are killed and 48 injured because of backup incidents. Legislation is now pending in both houses that would require a "rearward visibility standard" for all vehicles, according to Kids and Cars.
Suppliers say the segment will follow in the path of mobile video, which attracted the interest of the car companies who advertised it and generated consumer demand.
Malone believes it is only a matter of time before the products catch on because of their clear value. "It's one of the products that will do for OE what mobile video did. When you see that image pop up on the screen when you put it in reverse, you grasp the benefit of the product immediately," he said.
There is also a small market developing for the cameras as an add-on attachment for an in-dash mobile video or navigation sale, but Audiovox says the attachment rate to these products is still very low.
In new products, Crimestopper is focusing on cameras with simplified license plate mounting that do not require installers to cut the license plate. Audiovox, Crimestopper and HitchCAM are also now offering cameras with a wider field of vision.
HitchCAM is currently shipping a video mirror for its cameras with an LCD that automatically slides out when the car is in reverse. The replacement rear-view mirror has a 3.5-inch LCD that slides and retracts automatically when the driver enters or leaves reverse. The mirror is sold with a camera system at $1,299 or separately at $719.
In addition, the company improved the rear-viewing range of many of its products. The rear camera now gives a 150-degree to 170-degree viewing range, compared with most cameras that offer a 120-degree to 130-degree panorama. The new models, including the cubeCAM, FrameCAM and UniCAM, shipped last month with 3.5-inch monitors at $599 to $795 suggested retails.
Under Crimestopper's SecurView line are several new cameras also with either 150-degree or 170-degree viewing angles as well as a new "night vision" camera with LEDs that light the area around the camera for better night viewing.
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