General Motors and the Ford Motor Co said on Thursday that they would significantly expand the use of technologies aimed at reducing the risk of rollovers in their sport utility vehicles (SUVs).
GM said it would offer electronic stability control systems, which apply brake pressure to help a driver maintain control, on most of its SUVs over the next year. The company said that in December it would begin making stability control a standard feature on most of the large 2005 SUVs that do not already have it, including the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban and the GMC Yukon. Next year, it will add the midsize SUVs, including the Chevrolet Trailblazer, GMC Envoy and the Hummer H3.
Rollover accidents, which lead to more than 10,000 deaths a year, have been an Achilles' heel of the SUV segment. Because SUVs ride higher than passenger cars, they have a higher center of gravity and are more prone to rollovers.
GM's announcement follows recent studies from the insurance industry and the government suggesting that electronic stability systems can greatly reduce the risk of single-vehicle accidents, the type that occur when people swerve to avoid an object.
"Except for the growing use of seat belts, we have rarely seen a technology that brings such a positive safety benefit to the driving public," said Gary Cowger, the GM president for North American operations.
In electronic stability systems, a computer collects data from sensors monitoring the rotation of the tires, how hard the driver is turning the steering wheel, brake pressure and the direction of the car. If the car is not moving where the driver wants, the computer applies brake pressure to individual tires to bring the vehicle under control.
Ford executives said on Thursday that the company was in the midst of substantially expanding another technology more specifically aimed at reducing the risk of rollovers, and offered on top of an electronic stability system.
The technology, called roll stability control, has been added as a standard feature on the 2005 Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer SUVs and as a US$595 option on the 2005 Ford Expedition. It will also be standard on the 2006 Econoline 15-passenger van, which comes out in the second quarter of next year. The technology is already standard on Ford's Lincoln and Volvo SUVs.
Roll stability control adds a third dimension to electronic stability control, using sensory data to judge if a vehicle is beginning to tip over.
The roll system applies bursts of brake pressure to certain wheels to counteract forces pushing the vehicle over. It is made by Ford and only on Ford vehicles.