DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co.’s 2012 Focus compact will be the first Ford product to have frontal and side airbags designed to deploy specifically to match an occupant’s body size.
The airbags will offer more protection from head, neck, chest and rib injuries because computer systems will sense the size of a passenger and deploy the appropriate force and inflation.
The vehicle’s driver-side airbag will use “tethers” that control airbag inflation and force, Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s group vice president of global product development, said at an event here Wednesday.
“This is a leap forward in product,” Kuzak said.
Ford has been working on this new airbag technology for two years, said Sue Cischke, Ford’s group vice president of sustainability, environment and safety engineering. The reason for it is that “one size fits all” doesn’t work for safety and airbag deployment, she said.
The side airbags on the 2012 Focus’ add chest protection for front-seat passengers by using specially designed shoulder vents, said Matt Niesluchkowski, Ford of Europe safety manager said. Those vents sense how much a person’s shoulders block them to determine the size of the person. Then the computer delivers the appropriate air pressure to the airbag based on that person’s size during a side-impact crash, Niesluchkowski said.
For example, a taller person’s shoulders would block the vent. A taller person would benefit from a higher-pressure airbag, Niesluchkowski said. But a shorter person would not block the vent and therefore would get reduced force from the airbag, which would benefit that size person.
The driver-side airbag uses a curved-shaped tether system that pulls in the lower section to create a “pocket” in an inflated airbag, Niesluchkowski said. That pocket lessens the impact of the airbag on the driver’s chest and ribs in a frontal crash, he said.
The airbags will be standard equipment on the 2012 Focus, which goes on sale early next year in North America. Ford has not announced pricing for the car yet but has said it will be competitive to the outgoing model. The base 2011 Focus sedan starts at $17,365, including shipping.
The airbag technology will debut on other Ford vehicles over the next few years, the company said in a statement.
In addition to the redesigned airbags, Ford has used high-strength steels in 55 percent of the body shell of the 2012 Focus and ultrahigh-strength and boron steels in more than 30 percent of its skeletal structure. Niesluchkowski said those steels deliver lighter weight yet higher strength for added protection in a crash.