Ford has given us a sneak peek at its production-ready 2012 Focus, and while our lips may be sealed about its specs and our impressions, we can now give you the lowdown on the Blue Oval's new airbag technologies that will debut in its forthcoming C-segment stunner.
For the driver, the new steering wheel airbag uses a tether system that pulls in the lower section of the bag back toward the dashboard. This creates a small pocket that Ford engineers say will soften the blow of the airbag to the driver's chest and ribs, reducing the threat of bodily injury in a frontal crash.
The side airbags also work to prevent injuries to the driver and front passenger by adding shoulder vents that stay open during inflation, reducing pressure for smaller occupants. Taller folks will block these vents with their shoulders, and this added pressure can actually prove to be helpful.
Along with the shoulder vents, Ford has used an adaptive venting system in its passenger-side front airbag, which diverts some of the inflation gas outside of the bags. This better protects passengers by enhancing head and neck protection by matching inflation force with the size of the occupant, which is monitored by the weight sensors already built into the seats.
As you'd expect, these safety features won't just be limited to the 2012 Focus. Ford says that this technology will quickly spread to the rest of its model range within the next few years. To see exactly how these systems work, follow the jump to watch an instructional animated video, as well as actual crash test footage. Ford's press release is available for your reading pleasure, as well.
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ALL-NEW FORD FOCUS LAUNCHES EXCLUSIVE AIRBAG TECHNOLOGIES THAT ENHANCE CRASH PROTECTION
• All-new 2012 Ford Focus will offer an exclusive suite of innovative airbags that help customize protection in the most common frontal and side crashes
• Focus is launching Ford's next-generation driver-side airbag with enhanced chest protection technology designed to help reduce chest and rib injuries
• Innovative side airbags help enhance chest protection for front seat occupants with shoulder vents that deliver varying levels of pressure based on the size of the occupant and how much of their shoulder blocks the vent
• Focus will be Ford's first car ever with a front passenger airbag with adaptive venting designed to help enhance head and neck protection by better matching deployment force with occupant size
• The next-generation airbags will debut as standard equipment on the all-new Ford Focus on sale early in 2011 in North America. The new airbags will roll out on other Ford vehicles in the next few years
DEARBORN, Mich., Sept. 16, 2010 – The all-new 2012 Ford Focus will launch exclusive airbag technologies that enhance protection for front seat occupants in the most common frontal and side crashes.
The suite of new innovations includes Ford's next-generation driver-side airbag with enhanced chest protection technology. The new airbag uses a reconfigured curve-shaped tether system that pulls in the lower section to create a "pocket" to help lessen the impact of the airbag on the driver's chest and ribs in frontal crashes.
Ford's innovative side airbags feature unique shoulder vents that stay open and reduce pressure for smaller occupants who typically benefit from reduced forces. Taller occupants whose shoulders block the vent could benefit from the higher pressures.
Focus also will be Ford's first car ever to feature front passenger airbags with adaptive venting technology that diverts some of the gas from the airbag inflators through vents outside of the airbags. The restraints control module – the control center of Ford's advanced safety systems – adjusts the level of venting based on seat position.
The new passenger airbag is designed to help enhance head and neck protection by better matching deployment force with occupant size. This innovative system uses a small pyrotechnic device to force open the vent and can provide less pressure in the airbag when it's sufficient to help protect the occupant.
"This is Ford's most advanced airbag system we've ever equipped a car with, and it is designed to help protect occupants even better in the most common types of crashes," said Sue Cischke, Ford group vice president, Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering. "Each of these airbags uses innovative technologies to help better customize airbag protection to the occupant."
The new airbag technologies debut as standard equipment on the all-new 2012 Ford Focus, which goes on sale early next year in North America. They will be rolled out to other Ford vehicles in the next few years.
Data drive new airbag design
Ford's new driver-side airbag was designed to enhance chest and rib protection based in part on Ford's biomechanical research. In particular, Ford found this type of enhanced chest protection technology would be especially helpful in more serious crashes.
"While seat belts and airbags provide proven protection for drivers of all ages, elderly drivers remain at higher risk of injury than younger drivers due to the nature of collision forces," said Frank Heitplatz, Ford supervisor of occupant safety integration. "Decades of biomechanical research at Ford continue to spur refinement of the safety technologies in our vehicles to further reduce the risks of severe injuries."
Focus's strength on safety
In addition to the new airbags, the new Focus's vehicle structure provides enhanced crash protection as well as improved vehicle dynamics.
High-strength steels comprise 55 percent of the Focus's body shell, and ultra-high-strength and boron steels make up more than 31 percent of its skeletal structure. These advanced materials help the structure meet crash regulations across world markets, while minimizing the vehicle's weight to help maximize fuel economy.
"High-strength steels were key to delivering the lighter weight and higher strength we needed for structural efficiency," said Shawn Morgans, Ford technical leader in body engineering. "We believe the materials used on the new Focus are setting a new benchmark in the small car segment."
Ford was the first automaker to begin airbag research five decades ago. It fielded an airbag test fleet in 1971, offered a driver-side airbag in 1985 and standardized driver and front passenger airbags in most vehicles by 1993. In recent years, Ford has introduced a variety of crash protection systems – ranging from canopy airbags to knee bolsters – designed to improve occupant protection. Ford has the most Top Safety Picks from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety of any automaker.