General Motors Corp. and some of its suppliers confirm the auto maker, a long-time proponent of antilock brake systems as a safety feature, is considering making ABS optional on some of its models to keep vehicle prices down.

ABS, standard equipment on most GM models since the early '90s, is one of several features GM is considering making optional. Bob Lutz, vice chairman-product development, spoke in December of eliminating an overabundance of creature comforts such as dual-illuminated vanity mirrors. Privately, some ABS suppliers complain that their technology is a significant safety feature that saves lives — not a creature comfort.

Huge volumes of ABS units are at stake. In model year 2001, GM installed ABS on 1.8 million U.S.-produced cars and 2 million U.S.-produced light trucks, according to Ward's data. GM has led the industry with an 81% ABS installation rate for cars, compared to 59%, the second highest installation rate, at Ford Motor Co. and Honda America Mfg.

GM also installs 4-wheel ABS on 98% of its light trucks, which is comparable to Ford trucks but well above the competition. If GM made the equipment optional, its rate likely would drop, but it's difficult to estimate by how much.

Delphi Corp., which supplies GM with ABS, confirms GM is in such discussions but is for optional ABS if it will help GM sell cars. “If Lutz is right that this will improve their competitive position, then we're for it,” says Delphi Executive Vice President Don Runkle.

While Delphi has the most to lose with GM cars, TRW Automotive could lose even more as GM's ABS supplier for pickups. Robert Bosch GmbH and Continental Teves Inc. supply ABS for a small number of GM vehicles.

Ironically, the GM ABS discussion surfaces as the Bush Admin. considers requiring auto makers to install ABS on all vehicles as a means to monitor tire pressure to prevent rollovers.