Ford safety chief Sue Cischke shows off the Explorers rear seatbelt/airbag combination in November 2009

Ford safety chief Sue Cischke shows off the Explorer's rear seatbelt/airbag combination in November 2009

Ford and airline seat makers might have something to say about Japanese auto parts maker Takata's claim over its launch of a seat belt with a built-in air bag which inflates in a collision, "becoming the first company in the world to introduce such a product". The seat belt will debut in Toyota's Lexus LFA luxury sports car in December, Takata said.

Only problem is Ford announced back in November 2009 it would bring to market this year "the world’s first automotive inflatable seat belts, combining attributes of traditional seat belts and air bags to provide an added level of crash safety protection for rear seat occupants".

The advanced restraint system is designed to help reduce head, neck and chest injuries for rear seat passengers, often children and older passengers who can be more vulnerable to such injuries.  

Ford introduced the inflatable rear seat belts on the redesigned Explorer SUV this year and plans eventually to offer the technology in vehicles globally.

"Advances in air bag inflation and seat belt construction methods have enabled Ford and its suppliers to develop inflatable seat belts that are designed to deploy over a vehicle occupant’s torso and shoulder in 40 milliseconds in the event of a crash," the automaker said in 2009.

Takata said its seat belt air bag protects the driver's chest and also prevents the head from striking interior objects such as a side window so makes side and curtain airbags unnecessary although a front airbag remains essential.

Takata is set to market the product to other automakers.

Airbag seatbelts are also used in some aircraft - Virgin Atlantic and Air New Zealand have them in their Upper Class and Business Premier seat suites. The fitment means business/first class passengers do not have to sit upright for take-off or landing.

Back in the auto segment, the difference between Takata's new Lexus belt and Ford's is that the latter's is for rear passengers, the Lexus one for those in front and that's the real first, not the combination of belt and airbag.

Details of Ford's Explorer belt here