Ford plans its biggest airbag for 15-passenger 2015 Transit wagon

The giant airbag -- part of Ford's safety canopy system and designed to protect a passenger's head and neck in the event of a side-impact crash or rollover -- deploys in a fraction of a second.

Photo credit: FORD
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Ford Motor Co. will introduce its largest airbag ever -- a five-row side curtain about 15 feet long and 3 feet tall -- on the 15-passenger 2015 Transit wagon.

The automaker started developing the airbag in 2011 in collaboration with TRW Automotive.

The five-row Transit airbag is an industry first and the largest the company has developed, TRW spokesman John Wilkerson said.

The airbag is part of Ford’s safety canopy system and is designed to protect a passenger’s head and neck in the event of a side-impact crash or rollover. It deploys in a fraction of a second.

The Transit van goes on sale in the United States and Canada this summer and will eventually replace Ford's E-Series van, which was first sold in 1961 as the Econoline.

With the new airbag, Ford aims to address one of the top safety concerns of large passenger vans.

Though large passenger vans are involved in a proportionate number of fatal accidents compared to their share of the light-vehicle population, a 2002 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found they are involved in a higher number of single-vehicle accidents involving rollovers than other passenger vehicles.

“This airbag technology is unique in its purpose, which is to help provide protection across five rows of passengers in a cabin that is more spacious than the more traditional light-duty vehicle,” Norbert Kagerer, TRW’s vice president of occupant safety systems engineering, said in a statement.

The design spans five rows in a single bag with a volume of 120 liters; the volume of a side curtain airbag in the Ford Fusion is about 42 liters. The airbag has two inflators filled with stored gas that is released when sensors detect an impact.

The bag’s coated, polyester-based fabric can remain inflated for several seconds after deployment.

“The stringent customer and industry regulatory requirements for airbags called for developing a system that provides appropriate occupant protection in a smart package,” Kagerer said.

The Transit wagon is available in three roof heights and two wheelbases that come standard with side airbags. The medium-roof wagon is currently available, while the high- and low-roof wagons will go on sale later this summer.

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