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Democratizing Safety: It’s About Time

By Barbara McClellan

WardsAuto.com, Nov 12 2003

Honda recently unveiled a “safety-for-everyone” campaign, under which it plans to equip all of its vehicles with the latest industry safety technology that up to now only has been available on high-end vehicles.

Honda recently unveiled a “safety-for-everyone” campaign, under which it plans to equip all of its vehicles with the latest industry safety technology that up to now only has been available on high-end vehicles.

By 2006, the auto maker plans to make standard its automatic braking systems, plus advanced front-side airbags and side curtain airbags – both of which employ “smart” technology designed to protect out-of-position occupants. The exception will be two ultra-low volume specialty vehicles, the Honda S2000 and Acura NSX.

The company will go a step further with its light trucks and minivans, plus its sport/utility truck and Acura’s small SUV to bow within two years. All will be equipped with stability assist and side curtain airbags mated to rollover sensors to keep occupants from flying out the window.

By doing so, Honda not only insures the coveted 5-star rating for all of its products, but it becomes synonymous with safety, a title that Volvo and Saab carefully have cultivated.

Many competitors offer similar safety technology as options. The difference is Honda is democratizing safety by making it available to all its customers, not just the well heeled.

It may surprise some that Honda currently boasts the best record on standard government crash tests. Of the 12 vehicles to have achieved a double 5-star front- and side-crash test rating, five are Hondas: the Pilot SUV, Odyssey minivan, CR-V cross/utility vehicle and the Accord and Civic coupes.

It’s a cinch the ’04 Acura MDX SUV and ’04 Acura TL sports sedan will earn the rating as well. No other auto maker has more than one entry on the list.

And while safety will make Honda more marketable, the move also positions the company to address safety issues before they become government mandates, giving it the lead in safety technology research.

Future mandates likely will include pedestrian safety, as well. Europe and Japan already have strict legislation that demands auto makers take pedestrian accidents into consideration when it comes to engineering standards. Statistics show 5,298 pedestrian fatalities occur in Europe annually, compared with 4,939 in the U.S.

“Nobody cares about this (U.S. pedestrian safety), but we care about it very deeply,” says Charlie Baker, vice president, Honda R&D Americas Inc. But to be fair, Volvo and others have been active in this research.

The major issue for the U.S. industry currently revolves around compatibility issues, when vehicles of divergent weight and size collide. Honda has been active in cabin integrity for its passenger cars and override issues on its current line of SUVs, using a bracket that prevents a large vehicle from riding up onto the nose of a smaller vehicle in a collision.

The company now is planning better load dispersion with the use of a polygonal side frame for a light and efficient energy-absorbing body. This will extend to the hood and fenders, which cause 59% of head injuries and 63% of auto-pedestrian fatalities.

Next up for Honda: accident avoidance, which safety advocates hope to see mainstreamed as well.

http://wardsauto.com/ar/auto_democratizing_safety_time/index.htm
 
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