WASHINGTON - The automobile industry still favors putting so-called smart airbags in its products but has asked the federal government to rewrite proposed rules on how the systems would be tested and expected to perform.
'We want advanced airbag rulemaking. Maybe not this one,' said Barry Felrice, director of regulatory affairs for the American Automobile Manufacturers Association.
AAMA, operating despite plans by the former Big 3 to dissolve it next month, asked last week that the National Highway Traffic Safety Ad-ministration prepare a revised version of the rules by early next year.
Felrice said a requirement that airbags be tested for compatibility with any of the hundreds of child-safety seats that have been sold over the past decade would be impossible to meet.
Likewise, George Parker, vice president of the Associa-tion of International Automobile Manufacturers, warned, 'The test matrix for the development and certification of any vehicle line would become so complex and time consuming as to be impracticable and market restrictive.'
In other words, car companies would have difficulty getting new products on the market.
The companies also continue to have a fundamental philosophical difference with NHTSA over the rules. The automakers say NHTSA's plan to resume 30-mph crash tests into solid barriers with unbelted mid-sized male dummies would require them to return to installing more powerful airbags.
Overly forceful deployments have been cited as one cause of airbag-related deaths and injuries.
One consolation for concerned manufacturers is that NHTSA has just begun to consider what others think of the rules. A public hearing was held last week. Written comments are to be accepted until Dec. 17.
On the other hand, the agency and the industry have little time to spare. A federal law says the rules are to be adopted by early 2000 and says the advanced airbag systems must be phased into new cars and trucks during model years 2003-06.
Advanced airbags are supposed to be capable of tailoring their responses to different kinds of crashes and occupants.
NHTSA records demonstrate starkly the complexity of the undertaking. The agency asked airbag suppliers to provide information about the advanced systems they are working on and got back 10,000 pages of documents, most of them labeled 'confidential' for competitive reasons.