General Motors Executive Director of Vehicle Safety and Crashworthiness Gay Kent recently shared her insights about the importance of technological innovation and continuous improvement as part of GM’s safety strategy. Kent is an engineer who worked in full-size truck development before holding a variety of positions in vehicle safety and crashworthiness leading to her current position.
Q: What should customers know about GM’s commitment to vehicle safety?
A: Our safety strategy is about providing continuous protection for our customers before, during and after a crash. For example, the crash-avoidance system features of forward collision alert and lane departure warning offered on the 2012 GMC Terrain crossover is designed to help the driver avoid a crash before it happens. The industry-first front center air bag coming to our midsize crossovers in 2013 is an example of GM’s newest safety technology that may provide additional protection during side crashes and rollovers. And OnStar enables occupants to get help from emergency services after a crash through Automatic Crash Response.
Another recent example of our commitment to providing safety ‘after’ the crash is first responder training. For the Chevrolet Volt, GM worked with the National Fire Protection Association to develop and deliver a comprehensive training program for first responders. We believe our approach to vehicle safety and occupant protection is one of the most comprehensive in the industry.
Q: How does this strategy apply globally?
A: We design safety and crashworthiness into our vehicles very early in development. Different regions have unique requirements for crash safety as part of their New Car Assessment Programs or NCAPs. For example, the Chevrolet Cruze global compact sedan received the highest-possible 5-star crash ratings for overall safety in China, Korea, Europe, Australia and the United States.
Q: How do increasingly stringent federal safety standards and regulations influence GM’s work on vehicle safety?
A: Federal motor vehicle safety standards and safety regulations are included in the design and performance requirements for every new vehicle up front. On the Cruze, about 40 percent of the crash load cases were based on regulatory requirements, with the remaining 60 percent based on GM’s own internal requirements for vehicle safety and crashworthiness, which go above and beyond federal requirements.
Q: What drives new technologies like the front center air bag, which is not required by federal safety regulation?
A: GM is focused on the customer. From a vehicle safety perspective, this means demonstrating strong performance in third-party consumer metrics, for example the NHTSA NCAP and the Top Safety Pick vehicle test program by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Beyond that, GM has many partners in injury prevention. How a vehicle performs in the real world is an important source of information for driving continuous improvement and innovation in vehicle safety. The front center air bag is an example where studies of national collision data made it clear that an air bag of this type could help address many of the injuries and fatalities sustained by front occupants in far side impact crashes. No other air bag in passenger vehicles today offers the type of protection in the front seat that this air bag is designed to provide.
Q: How important was Takata, the system supplier, in the development of the front center air bag?
A: Takata played a vital role. GM and Takata had been working independently toward the same goal – the development of an air bag that could provide additional protection in side impact crashes. By teaming up, we were able to accomplish that goal more quickly and efficiently.
Q: Why is the introduction of a camera-based forward collision alert and lane departure warning system so important?
A: First, the system is designed to help drivers avoid crashes, and is able to offer two important features using a single camera. Often such new technologies are only seen on more expensive models, but GM is committed to offering them on a broad range of models. Terrain is a great vehicle to introduce this system, because it is attracting many consumers who are new to GMC and GM overall.
Q: Both front center air bag and the exclusively camera-based collision avoidance systems represent industry firsts for GM. Is this the beginning of a new trend or a continuation?
A: GM has a strong history on safety. Almost 35 years ago, GM introduced the Hybrid Ill, a third-generation dummy whose responses are more human-like in performance. This dummy remains the "gold standard" for measuring restraint performance and is the required dummy for regulatory compliance and NCAP testing in the United States. More recently, our dynamic locking latch plate for front safety belts was developed to help address new crash test criteria for the 2011 model year New Car Assessment Program. This was a key tuning device that enabled several of our models achieve 5-star Overall Vehicle Scores for safety.