When the Cadillac CT6 sedan goes on sale in the United States in March, General Motors won’t have to worry about regulatory blowback from one of its most eye-catching features: a rear-view mirror that doubles as an electronic rear-view display.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration this week gave its stamp of approval to the newfangled e-mirror, saying that it complies with federal vehicle standards.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx disclosed the change Monday during an interview on National Public Radio.
“We’ve asked the industry to give us innovations that they think can and should be part of vehicles,” Foxx told Robert Siegel of news program “All Things Considered.” GM came forward to ask about the rear-view mirror, Foxx said, and “we are issuing guidance that this technology does qualify under our current standards.”
The e-mirror in the CT6, sold by Michigan-based Gentex Corp. under the brand name “Full Display Mirror,” switches between a digital screen and a traditional mirror with a press of a button.
It is supposed to deliver a wider view of the road, and also to flaunt the sophistication of the CT6, which is being pitched as a worthy rival to German executive sedans such as the BMW 7-Series and the Mercedes-Benz S Class.
The question facing NHTSA was whether the mirror in the CT6 meets U.S. vehicle safety standards, which require cars to have “an inside rearview mirror of unit magnification.”
In a Feb. 22 letter, NHTSA essentially ruled that the fact that the mirror has another function doesn’t matter for purposes of the rules.
In so doing, NHTSA signaled its openness to new technologies that make cars safer, even if they do not fit neatly into existing regulations.
“We do not currently have safety concerns about your system,” NHTSA chief counsel Paul Hemmersbaugh wrote in the letter. “We note, however, if a manufacturer were to offer a system whose design, performance or usage was found to create an unreasonable risk to safety, that system would be subject to a recall.”
With the launch of the 2016 CT6, GM will be the first automaker to sell a vehicle using the Gentex mirror. GM has said the Cadillac XT5 crossover and all-electric Chevrolet Bolt hatchback will subsequently offer it for model year 2017.
Other car companies are exploring ways to offer better views of the road while driving. As an aid for right turns and lane changes, Honda Motor Co. offers LaneWatch, a camera built into the passenger-side mirror, on models such as the Civic and Accord.
Tesla Motors allows drivers to check a rear-facing camera feed while driving on the 17-inch navigation screen of its Model S sedan.
NHTSA has not embraced every such approach. In 2014, Tesla and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a Washington lobbying group, filed a petition with NHTSA seeking permission to sell cars with digital displays instead of side mirrors.
They argued that cameras could be packaged more easily than mirrors, reducing drag and thus making cars more efficient. For Tesla, that would translate into longer driving range for vehicles such as the Model X crossover.
No change in rules materialized, and in September the Model X, which had originally been designed with cameras in lieu of mirrors, went on sale with traditional mirrors.