While Detroit auto makers take a piecemeal approach — putting intelligent safety systems only in selected models — their overseas competitors, especially those from Japan, increasingly offer them as standard equipment across product lines.

So says an ABI Research study, indicating that electronic stability control (ESC), traction control systems (TCS), lane departure warnings and other advanced safety systems will be key differentiators for auto makers in the marketplace.

Not only are domestic auto makers losing market share to imports, but they may not be able to add safety systems to new models at a much greater rate than now, says Frank Viquez, ABI's automotive research director.

“Their resources may not be adequate to match those of a company like Toyota Motor Corp. that's part of a huge conglomerate with access to very advanced research and development, as well as holding stakes in some of its tier one suppliers,” he says.

Toyota and Honda are making ESC standard on all their light trucks. Ford and GM say they're putting it in more of their SUVs.