General Motors to Debut New Airbag Technology
DETROIT — General Motors Corp. is introducing a new front passenger airbag that deploys differently based on the severity of the crash, where the seat is and whether the passenger is wearing a seatbelt, according to the Associated Press.
The company unveiled the new air bags February 9 at the Chicago Auto Show. They will be standard on two luxury sedans, the 2006 Buick Lucerne and the 2006 Cadillac DTS, which will go on sale this fall. GM spokeswoman Meganne Hausler said the company eventually plans to introduce the air bag on other vehicles.
GM said the airbag is the first of its kind in the industry. The government is requiring all vehicles made after Sept. 1, 2006, to have advanced air bag systems, which determine how much to inflate the frontal airbags based on the passenger's weight, seatbelt use, and seating position.
Conventional advanced airbags inflate to a single size but adjust the air pressure according to the passenger's weight, position, and belt status. GM said its airbag goes further by adjusting both the size of the bag and the pressure.
Robert Lange, GM's director of structure and safety, said early testing indicates the airbags could improve GM's ratings in frontal crash tests. Several GM vehicles already have advanced air bag technology, including the Cadillac Escalade, the Chevrolet Avalanche, Silverado and Suburban, and the GMC Yukon.
GM's new airbag has a tether that holds the bag back to a smaller size if it detects the passenger is seated too close, unbelted or could otherwise be injured. The tether releases if the passenger is far enough back and belted. GM said it takes the vehicle's sensors only milliseconds to determine whether to unleash the full pressure.
Brian O'Neill, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said he hasn't seen technology like GM's before. He said one issue with advanced airbags has been false signals — such as a heavy bag on a seat — which automatically turns the passenger air bag off. He said manufacturers are so wary of harming passengers that they may err on the side of not letting bags deploy. He said GM's option of a smaller airbag could help that problem. "It will more often be able to deploy the passenger side airbag without doing harm, so there's a safety gain where it might have been turned off," O'Neill said.
The unveiling was GM's second major safety announcement in two weeks. The company said on Jan. 31 that it plans to put two safety features — OnStar and electronic stability control — in all of its vehicles by 2010.