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Honda Aims to Raise Standard With Safety Features

October 30, 2003|John O'Dell | Times Staff Writer

Honda Motor Co. said Wednesday that it would add numerous safety features as standard equipment, including front-seat side air bags, side-curtain air bags and anti-lock brakes, to most of its cars and trucks sold in the U.S. by 2006.

Only the company's limited-volume sports cars -- the S2000 and NSX -- plus its experimental fuel cell vehicle and the two-seat Insight hybrid will be exempted.

Honda also will introduce an improved crash-resistant steel frame as it rolls out new models in the next few years, said Dan Bonawitz, vice president for corporate planning at Torrance-based American Honda Motor.

The initiative, coupled with Honda's launch of a $30-million advanced crash test center in Raymond, Ohio, is aimed at propelling the No. 2 Japanese car brand in the U.S. into the same league as Volvo and Mercedes-Benz on the safety front.

"This will raise the bar," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, a Washington-based automotive safety advocacy group. "It is great leadership" by Honda and the way things should be done by industry without waiting for government regulation, she said.

The added safety features are a smart move, said consultant George Peterson of AutoPacific Inc. in Tustin. Consumer research by his and other marketing firms, he said, shows that increasingly "safety sells."

Honda said its light trucks, such as the Odyssey minivan and Pilot and Acura MDX sport utility vehicles, would be outfitted with stability control systems and sensors to trigger side-curtain air bags in a rollover.

Honda also said it would step up safety research involving pedestrians with its advanced test equipment at the new Ohio center. And various safety systems already in use on more than 2 million Honda vehicles -- including shock-absorbing fenders and breakaway windshield wiper mounts intended to reduce head injuries when pedestrians are hit by vehicles -- will be applied to all new models.

Bonawitz said Honda had developed a "crash compatibility" frame that helps small vehicles better absorb and spread out the impact in frontal collisions with larger vehicles.

All new and redesigned models sold by Honda worldwide will be equipped with the frame, said Charlie Baker, American Honda's vice president for research and development.

Honda is among the industry leaders in crash safety, with five of its U.S. vehicles earning top ratings for front and side impact crash tests from the National Highway Traffic Safety Agency.

Bonawitz said the additional safety features could result in some modest price increases on some models.

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