GM introduces industry first center air bag

Front-center air bag a first for GM and the auto industry

How many automotive air bags does it take to save a life in a side-impact crash? According to General Motors (NYSE: GM) at least one more than what you may have now, in the center between the driver and the front passenger.
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General Motors will introduce the industry’s first front center air bag, an inflatable restraint designed to help protect drivers and front passengers in far-side impact crashes where the affected occupant is on the opposite, non-struck side of the vehicle.

The front center air bag will be introduced on the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, and Chevrolet Traverse midsize crossovers in the 2013 model year. This new safety feature will be standard on Acadia and Traverse with power seats and all Enclaves.

This is not the first time I have noticed an emphasis on dealing with side-impact crashes. A design I reviewed during the my days at GM had a crush box between the seats so a cross-car, energy-transfer bar in the front seat would interact and transfer the energy from the B-pillar through the seat and redirect the energy into the crush box. Yet, it still did not address the crashing of the driver with the front passenger, a major factor in side-impact injuries. So, the idea of a center safety device is not new; but it is surely welcome.

The front center air bag deploys from the right side of the driver’s seat and positions itself between the front row seats near the center of the vehicle. This tethered, tubular air bag is designed to provide restraint during passenger-side crashes when the driver is the only front occupant, and also acts as an energy absorbing cushion between driver and front passenger in both driver- and passenger-side crashes. The air bag also is expected to provide benefit in rollovers.

GM analysis of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System database, found that far-side impact crashes, which the front center airbag primarily addresses, accounted for 11 percent of the belted front occupant fatalities in non-rollover impacts between 2004 and 2009 involving 1999 model year or newer vehicles. These far-side fatalities, where the occupant is on the non-struck side of the vehicle, also represent 29 percent of all the belted front occupant fatalities in side impacts.

“The front center air bag is not required by federal regulation, and no other air bag in passenger vehicles today offers the type of restraint and cushioning this air bag is designed to provide for front occupants,” said Scott Thomas, senior staff engineer in GM’s advanced restraint systems.

The front center air bag is expected to add to the vehicles’ record of third-party crash test performance. The 2012 model year editions of these midsize crossovers have received five-star Overall and Side Crash safety ratings from NHTSA’s New Car Assessment Program, and 2011 Top Safety Picks from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
“The front center airbag has real potential to save lives in side crashes,” said Adrian Lund, president of the insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “GM and Takata are to be commended for taking the lead in this important area.”

GM and technology supplier Takata developed the front center air bag over the course of three years, testing many design iterations to achieve packaging, cushioning, and restraint for a variety of crashes and occupant positions. Numerous elements of the air bag’s jointly patented cushion design address the restraint’s unique performance characteristics while considering a range of occupant sizes.

“While no restraint technology can address all body regions or all potential injuries, the front center air bag is designed to work with the other air bags and safety belts in the vehicles to collectively deliver an even more comprehensive occupant restraint system,” said Gay Kent, GM executive director of Vehicle Safety and Crashworthiness. “This technology is a further demonstration of GM’s above-and-beyond commitment to provide continuous occupant protection before, during and after a crash.”

The key here is that General Motors is acting ahead of federal mandates. That’s a decision that has to be applauded, encouraged and appreciated by everyone who drives.

Full Disclosure: At time of publication, Sherosky, creator of the auto sector charts for TN, is neither long or short with the mentioned stocks or futures, though positions can change at any time. None of the information in this article constitutes a recommendation, but an assessment or opinion.

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About the Reporter: After 39 years in the auto industry as a design engineer, Frank Sherosky now trades stocks, futures and writes articles, books and ebooks like, "Perfecting Corporate Character," "Awaken Your Speculator Mind", and "Millennial World Order" via authorfrank.com. He may be contacted here by email: [email protected] or via his Twitter i.d. @Authorfranks

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