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Ford To Offer Side Air Bags for All

April 8, 1998

NEW YORK (AP) _ Ford Motor Co. plans to offer side impact air bags on all its cars within three years, becoming the first major American automaker to make the safety feature widely available.

Ford doesn’t yet offer side air bags on any of its U.S. models, and hasn’t decided yet on which models the air bags will be standard and on which ones they will be optional.

``This is an important move,″ said Jac Nasser, Ford’s president of automotive operations. ``We know that 30 percent of all accident fatalities result from side-impact collisions and that’s why we have been working so hard to develop this technology.″

Ford will start by using the side air bags as optional equipment in its 1999 Cougar, out later this year, then as standard equipment in its Lincoln LS sedans next year. The rest of its models will follow by 2001, the company announced Wednesday at an auto show here.

The cost will vary depending on the type of model and size of air bag needed, said Jennifer Flake, a Ford spokeswoman. For the Cougar, the option will cost buyers $350.

Although normally found in expensive European cars, side air bags are now offered on six General Motors models, Volkswagen’s new Beetle, the new Toyota Solara sports coupe, and three of four models in Nissan’s Infinity division. The fourth will offer them by the end of this year, spokesman Jason Vines said.

Joan Claybrook, who heads Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Public Citizen, has said the new side air bags will become more prevalent over the next few years, as the technology can reduce injuries from side crashes as much as 50 percent.

Nearly 7,000 Americans die each year in side-impact crashes involving two vehicles.

But automakers are uncertain about how many consumers want the air bags.

For example, just 9 percent of those who bought a Chevrolet Prizm requested the side air bags, said John Middlebrook, the head of Chevrolet.

Chrysler Corp. hasn’t decided whether offer side air bags. Chrysler officials said that while the air bags might be good for marketing purposes, they aren’t sure how much they improve safety _ or even what type of air bag they would use.

``We aren’t quite ready to pick the winning technology,″ said Chrysler Chairman Robert Eaton.

Ken Kohrs, vice president of Ford’s large and luxury vehicle center, said the automaker chose bags that deploy from the seat _ and protect the driver’s head and chest _ because they will protect the driver no matter how close the seat is to the steering wheel.

He said people should have fewer concerns about being hurt by the side air bags because they deploy at a slower speed than early versions of front air bags.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration doesn’t require side air bags and also hasn’t determined which type of air bags work best. Ricardo Martinez, the administrator of the agency, said there are many different approaches automakers are taking to address side-impact collisions.

``We encourage the innovation and creativity,″ he said. ``I’m really thrilled to see how many resources there are for safety that there weren’t ten years ago.″

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