WASHINGTON - General Motors estimates it will absorb $250 to $300 in costs for each interior trunk release device installed under a program it announced last week.
Ron Zarrella, president of GM North America, said the automaker decided to produce a trunk-escape kit and offer it at an affordable price after 11 children suffocated to death in car trunks in three separate incidents in late July and early August.
'If we did a cost-benefit analysis on this, we wouldn't be here today,' Zarrella said last week after announcing the availability of the kits.
Under the program, owners of any post-1990 GM car will be able to get a kit installed early in 1999 for a fee of $50. The device consists of a large illuminated handle that a child in a trunk could grasp easily, a childproof switch on the trunk latch that must be preset for the trunk lid to close, and straps to keep children from crawling from back seats into trunks.
The latch is illuminated by two light-emitting diodes, which use less power than bulbs. They are timed to shut off one hour after the trunk is closed so they do not drain the car battery.
Zarrella said GM will not make the device standard on new cars because a recently created federal panel is studying the issue and may recommend other kinds of technology to keep people from getting trapped in car trunks.
Heather Paul, executive director of the National SAFE KIDS Campaign and chairwoman of the federal panel, said she expects the study to show that 'an entrapment-resistant solution should be available to all car owners eventually.'
In the meantime, she said, she hopes other manufacturers follow GM's example.
Helen Petrauskas, Ford Motor Co. vice president for environmental and safety engineering, said her company also has been working on the problem and will have something to offer customers in 1999.
DaimlerChrysler Corp. spokeswoman Devon Williams said her company is studying the issue but favors a uniform industrywide solution.