Ford Uses Cars As Punching Bags--And It's All For You

May 12, 2009

As I stared at this huge industrial robot, I asked if it could do anything other than push a shopping cart at about 300 mph? The engineer answered that it could do the same thing with a bicycle.


While there is a certain amount of humor in seeing a shopping cart loaded with over 100 pounds of lead get hydraulically fired into the side of a perfectly defenseless 2010 Ford Taurus, there's logic behind the exercise. Tests like these enable Ford engineers to fine tune safety equipment such as side air bags so that they can respond more quickly and effectively ... but only when needed.

Engineers pointed out that some manufacturer's side airbag sensors can't tell the difference between a bike or a soft ball hitting the door and a car. The sensors in all 2010 Ford models can. Same for all 2009 Ford F-150 trucks, the first Ford production vehicle to use a new type of in-door sensor to "read" side impacts. The new air bag systems use pressure pulses from a side impact to detect the impact, and then deploy up to 30 percent faster than a traditional air bag system that uses acceleration-based sensors.

Engineers use the aforementioned robot to ensure consistency between tests. And truthfully, the shopping cart only looks like it's going 300 mph. It's really only going 10 mph, about the speed a cart could achieve in a parking lot with an unusually steep grade.

2009 Ford F-150 jumping curb for airbag sensor test

2009 Ford F-150 jumping curb for airbag sensor test

Enlarge Photo

While at an event held in Dearborn, Michigan yesterday (May 12), we also had a chance to curb hop a 2009 F-150 at 35-mph. The test is designed to make sure that the airbags don't go off when the driver does something idiotic like drive over a curb at 35 mph. Our test vehicle was a handsome Platinum edition, and it's 20-inch wheels did not take kindly to the abuse. Our test driver said that the actual test happens at over 50 mph. Journalists weren't invited along at this elevated speed because the department didn't have enough mouth guards to go around.

Our take-away from the event is that Ford's approach to safety is thorough. The complexity of the systems is truly stupefying, and anyone who thinks differently is, well, stupid.

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