Automakers do not expect federal regulators to use this week's summit on car-truck compatibility to push for tougher rules against high-riding pickups and sport-utilities.
Robert Lange, executive director of safety engineering for General Motors, predicted a call for 'more research and a better understanding of what it is we want to accomplish.'
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's call in February for a car-truck compatibility summit followed reports on the issue in The New York Times and studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and by researchers under contract to NHTSA.
Although the reports generally confirmed that cars fare poorly when hit by bigger vehicles, the data were subject to widely varying interpretations.
GM's Lange and other industry representatives contend that car-truck compatibility is a complex issue, and knee-jerk rules to make trucks lighter or less rigid could make vehicles overall less safe.
Ford is calling for an open mind on the issue.
'We are considering everything, even the possibility of putting airbags on the outside of a vehicle, perhaps on the front bumper,' Ford spokesman Ken Zino said.
Ford does not want to rule out any solution, he said.
Even NHTSA, which organized the meeting, has been subtly trying to alter, if not lower, expectations.
NHTSA Administrator Ricardo Martinez said in February the gathering would be an 'international summit' on car-truck safety.
Last week, Rae Tyson, NHTSA deputy director of public affairs, said the Friday, June 5, summit meeting is a 'dialogue' on compatibility because that 'more appropriately describes what is going to take place.'
Tyson added, 'We're going into this with an open mind. The possibility of rule-making is not at the top of the list.'
The gathering in Windsor, Ontario, will follow the four-day international Enhanced Safety of Vehicles technical conference, which will bring together 600 people from government, industry, research and medicine.
At one Enhanced Safety of Vehicles session NHTSA will present preliminary results of its recent series of tests crashing a pickup, a minivan, a sport-utility and a sedan into the sides of mid-sized cars.
Summit or not, automakers say they are acting on their own to reduce hazards, especially for people in cars who are struck by trucks.
Ford is looking into redesigning its cars and trucks to minimize the difference in height between car and truck frames. Currently, some light-truck bumpers override car bumpers in a crash.
The focus is not merely on lowering truck height, Ford said.
'We're spending as much time looking at cars as we are trucks,' Zino said.
To lessen the risk in side crashes, Ford is mounting head and chest side airbags in every redesigned North American vehicle line beginning in the 1999 model year.
GM's Lange agrees progress is already being made.
He said carmakers have jointly petitioned NHTSA for a revised side-impact test to improve safety in vehicles that are struck, and he believes changes could be made in the front structures of trucks to reduce hazards.