WASHINGTON - General Motors officials say a new technology that will turn off the front passenger's airbag to protect a child needs further refinement before it can be brought to the market.
Ron Zarrella, president of GM North America, had said at the February 1999 Chicago auto show that airbag suppression technology would be introduced in the mid-2000 Cadillac Seville.
But GM officials said recently that the target will not be met.
'We found some things we're not comfortable with,' during testing, said Mo Thomas, GM senior project engineer. 'We want to ensure that it is right before it goes out.'
The airbag suppression system relies on an electronic mat buried in the passenger-seat cushion. The mat takes weight and shape readings to determine when a child is present.
GM officials volunteered news of the delay not because they were asked about the Zarrella promise but because they want to be more open, GM safety spokesman Greg Martin said.
GM said it will begin installing front airbags with dual-stage inflators in five 2001 models: the Chevrolet Impala and Monte Carlo, Buick LeSabre, Pontiac Bonneville and Oldsmobile Aurora. The company produces about 500,000 of the cars a year.
Nonluxury US vehicles that already have dual-stage airbags are the 2000 Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable.
GM safety officials said the lower stage of their airbag will deploy with about 70 percent of the force of the upper stage. In about 90 percent of crashes that require an airbag deployment, the lower stage will provide all of the needed protection, they added.
The point of the technology is to avoid injuries caused by overly powerful airbags. New federal rules, effective in the USA in three years, require car companies to install airbags that protect a range of vehicle occupants but don't create unreasonable risks for children and small women.