General Motors Corp. will take up the European standards of safety with new side airbags, used first by German and Swedish makers, the Associated Press reported Monday that will be optionally fitted late this year on Saturn Division cars.
General Motors will also install dual-stage air bags in several models next year, according to GM officials quoted by AP.
But GM will not meet a deadline it set with much fanfare in February 1999 for rolling out a system that stops the passenger air bag from inflating if a child or child seat is in front of it, AP added. GM said it had nearly perfected a suppression system but had run into last-minute problems in testing. AP did not elaborate on the nature of these problems.
The side curtain air bags will appear first in 2001 versions of the Saturn LS and S-series, costing between $300 and $400. Those are expected to arrive in US dealer lots late this year. The Saturn brand is not officially available in any Arab markets to date.
The system uses a sensor in the pillar between the doors that measures the force of any blow against the car. A second sensor between the driver and passenger seats determines whether the first sensor was detecting a crash or just getting whacked by a shopping cart.
If a serious crash is under way, the air curtain inflates from the roof, unrolling like a paper party horn. According to AP, The whole operation takes about 30 milliseconds.
There are fewer than 3 million vehicles on US roads with side air bags of some kind, most of which are bags that inflate from the side of the seat. Several automakers offer the systems, with Ford Motor Co. building them in the largest number of models so far.
GM's move comes two weeks after the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration unveiled a long-awaited rule requiring automakers to design and test air bags for children and small women.
Since 1990, 153 Americans have been killed by air bags in low-speed and otherwise survivable crashes. The rate of air-bag deaths has declined since 1998, when lower-powered air bags were put in new cars and trucks.
GM engineers said they went with a curtain design to better protect against head injuries, especially for unbelted occupants. The US government estimates that side air bags that protect the head could prevent about 600 deaths from head injuries in crashes each year if they were installed in all cars.
Air bags have saved an estimated 4,600 Americans in higher-speed crashes.
The dual-stage air bags will appear as standard equipment on 2001 models of GM's larger sedans – the Chevrolet Impala, Pontiac Bonneville, Oldsmobile Aurora and Buick LeSabre – which total nearly 500,000 sales a year.
GM engineer Jim Khoury was quoted by AP as saying the system measures the force of a frontal crash and decides whether to set off the air bag's full power or a second stage that's about 70 percent as strong. He said GM's testing found that in nearly all crashes, the less powerful stage would be adequate. The tests also found reductions in air bag injuries of up to 20 percent.
Safety experts have said dual-stage bags will reduce deaths and injuries from air bags that inflate explosively, particularly for small adults and children.
Both air bag systems will soon spread to other GM models. But a system for turning off passenger air bags isn't ready for production, as GM had promised last year.
Mohan Thomas, a project engineer for GM's Safety Center, told AP some problems in testing have delayed the project.
The system uses a thin mat with 22 sensors sewn into the passenger seat. The sensors measure the weight and position of the mass in the seat, decide whether it's an adult, child or child seat, and activate or deactivate the air bag.
GM declined to say when the system would be available – Albawaba.com.
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