In 2010 I was one of a handful of bloggers and automotive journalists who were invited to visit the Ford Factory in Dearborn, Michigan. The universe cooperated, and I was lucky enough to go on a quick trip to tour the Ford Plant.
The folks at Ford wanted to demonstrate some safety innovations:
And things that I noticed:
Wow, just wow. The rear seat belts in the 2011 Explorer were to be the first to feature these. The seat belts inflate in an accident. They deploy in a fraction of a second and help prevent head and neck injury. We had a demonstration of these that was incredibly powerful to see in person.
The safety belts left me with more questions than answers, so ultimately I sent off a list of questions to Ford. Rather than diluting their responses I’ll just share them with you here:
What happens when the belt inflates and an infant seat (base only) is installed? We have tested the belts with various child seats and have not found issues. Parents have the option of restraining child seats with LATCH.
What happens when the belt inflates and a toddler safety seat in installed? If there is video of either of these two scenarios I’d love to include it. Same response, there is no video available.
How do the belts work with the obese? As Americans are getting larger, those belts might be inflating onto someone’s lap, not their chest. The belts are designed to enhance protection for all rear-seat occupants who properly buckle up.
How long before they deflate? The belts deflate in about 5-6 seconds after they fully inflate.
How much more space do they occupy? Does the belt pull less tight so that it’s less force toward the seat? They will be packaged in the same area in the new Explorer as models that have traditional seat belts. They operate much like a traditional seat belt in everyday use.
Will the belts expand on impact if not buckled? (replacement cost… not particularly safety oriented) No. They will be very affordable to replace but we don’t have specific pricing because dealers ultimately set repair costs.
Here’s a video, it’s very “Team Ford” but it shows you the seat belts with crash test dummies, which is truly extraordinary to watch in person.
MyKey allows parents and fleet managers to have some control over their drivers without actually being in the car. MyKey can limit the speed as low as 80 mph. I see it as a regulator, only it’s not permanent, so you haven’t changed the makeup of the car. MyKey also makes it impossible to turn off the Beltminder or the BLISTM (Blind Spot Information System) and Cross Traffic Alert. MyKey also sets a maximum volume on the radio. As proof that I’m ancient, the kind folks at Ford turned the radio up to full MyKey volume and I still wanted to cry but they’ve done a lot of research about driver distraction and apparently that is not always loud enough to keep a young adult happy driving. I find it frightening that teens like music quite so loud and also that I cannot remember that part of being 17.
This is cool, when you’re pulling out of a parking spot (perpendicular to traffic) you are alerted to traffic crossing your path long before you can see it. Those accidents at slow speeds can be expensive, just ask the thief who is currently trying to sue me.
This is the big one. When folks are getting off the highway, particularly after long trips at high speeds, Ford was seeing a pattern of them going too fast and coming off the roadway on circular exits. With this in mind they created Curve Control. It slows the car for you and it keeps it stable (keeps it from tipping over). We took VERY tight turns in a car that was wrapped in velcro (I imagine it’s a 2011 Explorer?) at 55mph. Although my flight or fight response was clearly activated the car hugged the road, stayed on course, and was incredibly stable. I’m looking forward to seeing Curve Control on the entire Ford Fleet. It’s an amazing safety innovation.
If you are in or around the Dearborn area take a half a day and tour The Rouge. It was the first assembly line style plant in the west and a cornerstone of American Industrialist History. I loved the tour and I noticed that the kids who were there loved it too. It’s the perfect activity for a family especially if you have diverse tastes.
Let’s be frank, the automobile is (and has been) a huge source of pollution here in America. We like them big, we like them fast, and we like new cars. Everything about our automotive preferences is an assault on mother earth. The sections of the plant that I toured had some thoughtful innovations. The F-150 assembly building has a living roof, and they use skylights instead of fluorescent lighting (weather permitting). The asphalt in the parking lots is porous, and there are gardens in empty spaces. Ford isn’t what I’d call a “green corporation” but I do see them as being aware and building sustainable practices into their production. I think that’s worth mentioning.