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US: Ford expands belt and SYNC technology to more vehicles

By just-auto.com editorial team | 23 June 2011

After Explorer debut, inflatable rear belts next go into Fords Flex luxury SUV

After Explorer debut, inflatable rear belts next go into Ford's Flex luxury SUV

Ford is expanding its industry-first rear inflatable seat belts, introduced in the latest Explorer, into Flex and Lincoln vehicles set to arrive in dealer showrooms next summer.

The advanced restraint system is designed to help reduce head, neck and chest injuries for rear seat passengers, often children and older people.

The addition of the inflatable rear seat belts to the Flex - a large SUV - builds on the 'top safety pick' ratings the vehicle recently earned from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Ford said it plans to continue offering the inflatable belts affordably after launching them for the Explorer.

Early data show approximately 40% of Explorer buyers are parents ordering rear inflatable belts, said Amy Marentic, Ford's car and crossover group marketing manager.

The inflatable belts were added this spring, boosting the Explorer’s already extensive list of safety innovations. The vehicle already has seen strong demand from customers for its safety and driver-assist technologies.

In everyday use, the inflatable belts operate like conventional seat belts and are compatible with child safety seats. In Ford’s research, over 90% of those who tested the inflatable belts found them to be similar to or more comfortable than a conventional belt because they feel padded and softer.

In the event of a frontal or side crash, the inflated belt helps distribute crash force energy across five times more of the occupant’s torso than a traditional belt. That expands its range of protection and helps reduce the risk of injury by diffusing crash pressure over a larger area, while providing additional support to the head and neck. After deployment, the belt remains inflated for several seconds before dispersing its air through the pores of the airbag.

The use of cold compressed gas instead of a heat-generating chemical reaction – which is typical of traditional airbag systems – means the inflated belts feel no warmer on the wearer’s body than the ambient temperature. The inflatable belts also fill at a lower pressure and a slower rate than traditional airbags because the device does not need to close a gap between the belt and the occupant. The inflatable belt’s accordion-folded bag breaks through the belt fabric as it fills with air, expanding sideways across the occupant’s body.

Ford is also making its factory fitted SYNC AppLink available on 10 vehicles for 2012, expanding the reach of the software application that gives users hands free voice control capability for smartphone apps.

The Ford Fusion, Fusion Hybrid, Fiesta, F-150, Expedition, E-Series and Shelby GT500 will join the previously announced 2012 Mustang as AppLink-equipped vehicles.

The carmaker said that more mobile innovations are on the way, with additional jobs planned for its Connected Services Solutions Organisation - and 2,500 independent developers have already indicated they are interested in creating more apps for Ford through the company's dedicated SYNC developer website.

Doug VanDagens, Ford's connected services solutions chief, said: "We understand more and more drivers are using their devices and their apps while in the car. Ford is a part of the solution, offering voice-activated options such as SYNC with AppLink on a broader range of our products, which gives more customers a smarter way to access their apps while driving that keeps their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road."

The recently released JD Power and Associates 2011 US Automotive Emerging Technologies Study said 86% of smartphone owners indicated they use their device while in their vehicles. A Nationwide Mutual Insurance 2010 study indicated over one in four Americans who download smartphone apps admit to using those apps while driving.

VanDagens added that the connected services solutions organisation, responsible for developing the company's in-car connectivity services, is also on its own accelerated growth plan to stay in step with - if not a step ahead of - how the car connects with the latest and greatest in the mobile electronics industry.

During the next four years, group will grow fourfold with a threefold jump planned for US operations alone.

Mark Fields, president of Ford operations in North America and South America, said a recent study showed that smartphones will overtake feature phones in the US. And, he said, two-thirds of smartphone users want to use them in their vehicles.

He said: "Mobile app growth is literally skyrocketing. This is a trend that we cannot ignore, especially as a Nationwide Insurance study shows that one in four Americans who download apps admits to using them while driving."