WINDSOR, Ontario - After a week of talk about worldwide cooperation to make trucks less harmful to cars in crashes, the Big 3 mounted a vigorous defense of their current vehicles.
The defiant stand came at a Friday, June 5, conference that U.S. safety regulators had billed as an opportunity 'to consider the next steps to reduce the incompatibility of vehicles.'
The Big 3 attitude contrasted with earlier claims by Ricardo Martinez, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, who said manufacturers have been coming to his agency with ideas to fix the problem.
Some attendees suggested privately that carmakers are addressing technical issues in closed-door meetings with regulators and dealing with public relations concerns in the open.
Martinez also said he wanted car companies at Friday's event to make 'commitments' to do more to save people from car-truck crashes. But none were given.
Susan Cischke, Chrysler Corp.'s executive director of safety affairs, maintained carmakers want to be cooperative, but she added, 'I don't think anybody is ready to go out and change designs without knowing how to do that and what factors are important.'
Big 3 participants in the so-called International Dialogue on Vehicle Compatibility acknowledged upfront they coordinated their presentations.
Cischke catalogued reasons customers want large, high-riding trucks: They want power for towing, ground clearance for off-road driving and in some cases capabilities for farm or commercial use.
Ernie Grush, a Ford Motor Co. safety analyst, said, 'Road users come in all sizes. They always have and they always will.'
He also contended compatibility will be less of an issue after already approved safety measures work their way into the fleet. He listed upgraded side-impact protection, better airbags and newly required head-impact padding.
Robert Lange, General Motors' executive director for safety engineering, said, 'It is astounding to us that recent media attention has generated public concern that is not justified.'
Government and industry should do the research first, he said. 'Then, decide what needs to be done, if anything.'
Others see the issue in starker terms. Keith Rodgers, a senior engineer in the United Kingdom's transportation department and the chairman of an international coalition studying compatibility, said bluntly, 'Of course, you have this huge problem in the States.'
Martinez, who issued a call in February for a truck summit, later changed it to a 'dialogue' and ultimately chose not to attend. He said he wanted to promote a free exchange of ideas and not imply federal rules are in the works.