Innovation

Honda's new wraparound airbag is one small part of their commitment to safety innovation

Honda's new airbag is designed like a baseball mitt.

Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

"Safety for Everyone" the banners read inside Honda's R&D facility in Marysville, Ohio. Whether they're evolving hood creases to absorb impacts different or designing a stronger chassis, safety is in focus for design and engineering teams responsible for innovating Honda and Acura products. It was at this facility last August that Honda revealed its newest safety innovation to the press for the first time - a baseball mitt-like airbag.

Honda has been one of the companies hardest hit by the Takara airbag recall. The nearly decade-long saga is finally in its last chapter and, to close it out, the automaker is taking the bull by the horns developing their own airbag from initial concept to production.

Honda new airbag tech R&D Americas Ohio Crash testing is vital but the time it takes to reset between tests is cumbersome so companies are relying more and more on computer simulations.Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

Honda Research & Development Americas is the largest facility of its kind outside of Japan. It is 1.6 million square feet of workspace for over 1,600 employees. It's a place that doesn't just innovate the minutiae. They've been designing vehicles from the ground up since starting work on the 1991 Honda Accord Wagon. That work continues through the Honda Passport and forthcoming redesigned Acura MDX.

The 2001 Honda Civic Coupe was designed there and become one of the first two vehicles to earn a five-star Euro NCAP rating in front and side crash testing.

At the facility, the company's efforts aren't just with passive safety systems. Honda is on the path to zero injuries as a result of a collision.

Walking into the large cubicle-riddled workspace where product designers and engineers sit within the facility, it's clear to see that the human factor plays a role. Memory books are filled in photos and letters from crash victims who have had their lives saved because of innovation, reminding workers that their jobs are helping people the world over.

Honda new airbag tech R&D Americas Ohio Brian Bautsch, manager of automotive crash safety at Honda R&D Americas, holds one of the company's scrapbooks that is full of letters from grateful customers.Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

Honda has the ability to crash test cars on-site, however the process is expensive and there is a long wait time between sled tests. The process is also not environmentally friendly.

Instead of continually running crash tests for every possible design tweak, the company is able to digitally simulate crashes using computers. This allows engineers to have the ability to strip back layers of design and isolate parts of the vehicle to see how speed, impact, direction, and condition all are effected during a crash.

The company does approximately 30,000 simulations during a vehicle's development. That has created 220 TB of storage data. How much is that? Take the amount of data that is in every book ever published and multiply it by four.

This has changed the product development cycle from design, then simulation then mule crash testing then mass production to design then simulation then mass production.

Honda new airbag tech R&D Americas Ohio Before Honda crash tests using their sled, they're able to simulate the same test thousands of times using computers.Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

That's not to say that Honda isn't crash testing vehicles. The company has a fleet of 48 full-scale crash test dummies that are sized for children and adults with different models representing the typical adult female and male forms.

Different types of dummies and different generations of those test subjects are used depending on what the team is trying to find out. One even has a water bladder to replicate the density of a human for vehicle-to-pedestrian testing.

Safety technicians and engineers measure the responses of the dummies during a variety of scenarios in four ways: head drop, neck pendulum, torso impact, and knee impact.

It isn't just the traditional features of the vehicle that have to be taken into account. The impact of an airbag deployment during a collision can injure as well as prevent more serious injuries. It's all about the way the bag deploys and contacts the passenger. It's a split-second interaction that humans generally do not have time to properly situate themselves for.

Honda new airbag tech R&D Americas Ohio test dummy Honda's test dummy fleet features models in a variety of shapes and sizes.Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

That's where Honda's new airbag style comes in. It's easiest to think of as a pillow with sides and a minimalistic center section - a catcher's mitt-like style that wraps around the sides of the head of the passenger disallowing neck twisting or pendulum motion.

In testing shown during a demonstration in August, just after a testing sled was crashed, the airbag deployed, wrapping around the test dummy from about the shoulders up for a split second- just long enough to minimize the effect of injuries like whiplash and prevent debris from the injury from making contact with the face. The dummy's body's reaction was far less severe than when an airbag as traditionally thought of deploys as the result of a collision.

This new airbag is the first real innovation in airbag technology in over a decade. Holding true to their motto that safety is for everyone, Honda is making the airbag technology available by partnering with automotive safety supplier Autoliv and not holding exclusivity over the product.

2021 TLX Advances Acura’s Commitment to Safety Performance www.youtube.com

The new airbag will makes its debut inside the 2021 Acura TLX. It's reasonable to assume that the forthcoming next-gen Acura MDX will have the same technology.

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The Ford Motor Company will recall about 3 million vehicles as part of the Takata airbag recall.

Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

Following the denial of a 2017 petition to the U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Ford Motor Company has announced a recall of 3 million vehicles, a move that will cost the company an estimated $610 million, according to internal estimates.

The petition is part of the larger Takata airbag recall and specifically involves the defect of phase-stabilized ammonium nitrate in the driver-side air bag inflators that Takata manufactured with a calcium sulfate desiccant. Ford wasn't the only recipient of the defective inflators. Mazda also utilized the parts.

The list of impacted Ford vehicles ranges from the 2006 to 2012 model years. They include Ford Ranger (2007-2011), Fusion (2006-2012), Edge (2007-2010), Lincoln MKZ/Zephyr (2006-2012), MKX (2007-2010), and Mercury Milan (2006-2011). Approximately 2.7 million of those vehicles are in the U.S. and 300,000 are in Canada.

Mazda is also part of the recall, with 5,848 vehicles effected by the inflator issue. Those models are 2007-2009 B-Series pickup trucks, which were built on the same platform using the same air bag inflators as the 2007-2011 Ford Ranger.

Late last year, the NHTSA ordered General Motors to recall 7 million trucks and SUVs after a four-year back-and-forth battle over whether or not the Takata air bag recall was absolutely necessary for GM products. The models recalled as part of this action are "GMT900" models that contain "SPI YP" and "PSPI-L YD" inflator variants. The GMT900 is a General Motors-specific platform that underpins a number of light- and heavy-duty pickup trucks and SUVs including: Chevrolet Silverado 1500, GMC Sierra 1500, Chevrolet Silverado 2500/3500, GMC Sierra 2500/3500, Chevrolet Tahoe, Chevrolet Suburban, Chevrolet Avalanche, GMC Yukon, GMC Yukon XL, Cadillac Escalade, Cadillac Escalade ESV, and Cadillac Escalade EXT. The petition involves approximately 5.9 million model year 2007–2014 vehicles.

2014 Chevrolet Suburban The 2014 Chevrolet Suburban is one of the models NHTSA recently ruled needed to be recalled. Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

In early 2020, 10 million vehicles were recalled after having their original equipment replaced with new versions of the same thing with the same design and chemistry rather than newly designed parts.

The Takata airbag recalls are part of the largest automotive recall in U.S. history. It involves more than 67 million vehicles to date.

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The Avenir trim level joins the Buick Envision lineup for 2021.

Photo courtesy of Buick

The redesigned 2021 Buick Envision builds on the success of its little brother, the 2020 Buick Encore GX, giving customers more premium features and making the two-row SUV more competitive in its class.

Buick will sell the 2021 Envision, which slots below the three-row Enclave in the Buick lineup, in trim levels with more distinctions between them than the previous generation Envision offered, including the Preferred, Essence, and Avenir grades. Preferred and Essence trim levels are available with a Sport Touring package, which gives the car darkened exterior finishes and dark 20-inch wheels.

The Envision Avenir is distinguished by an exclusive mesh grille design, with tinted chrome trim and unique 20-inch wheels with a Pearl Nickel finish.

2021 Buick Envision Avenir

Photo courtesy of Buick

Each Envision comes with a more athletic body design for the new generation. At the front, there are LED headlights with LED daytime running light signatures. LED taillamps are at the back. Welcome/walkaway lighting and animation is activated via key fob.

Buick has put a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine under the hood of the Envision that makes 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It's paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission. Push/pull buttons shift the vehicle in the place of a traditional shifter.

All-wheel drive (AWD) is available. Model with AWD get selectable drive modes: Tour, AWD, Snow/Ice, and Sport. Front-wheel drive models have all those with the exception of the AWD mode. Hill descent control is standard on AWD Envisions. A continuous damping control suspension is available on top-tier Envision Avenir models.

Buyers can get their Envision's interior with either a light or dark interior color scheme. Perforated leather upholstery is available on Envision Essence models. Heated front seats are standard on Essence and available on Preferred. Heated and ventilated front seats, diamond-quilted perforated leather upholstery, driver's seat massage, heated rear outboard seats, navigation, and wireless smartphone charging are standard on the Envision Avenir.

The Envision is the first model in the Buick lineup to incorporate the company's new 10.2-inch infotainment touch screen, which faces more toward the driver than the front seat passenger. A covered compartment below the instrument panel is home to the SUV's wireless charging pad, SD card slot, accessory outlet, and USB ports. Amazon Alexa, wireless Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto are available.

The system also has Buick-exclusive apps including Reese's Book Club and NCAA March Madness.

The dual-wing armrest is back by popular demand on the center console between the front seats. A heated steering wheel and air ionizer are standard on Essence and Avenir, and available on Preferred versions of the SUV. A power moonroof is available on Essence and Avenir models.

The five-passenger Envision has a 60/40 split-folding rear seat that can fold flat. There is 52.7 cubic feet of cargo space behind the first-row seats and 25.2 cubic feet behind the second-row seats. A hands-free programmable power liftgate is standard on Essence and Avenir and available on Preferred models.

Buick is making the SUV available with the Buick Drive Confidence Plus package, which includes a suite of nine standard advanced safety and driver assistance technologies like forward colliosn alert, front pedestrian braking, and rear park assist. Additional available driver assistance technologies include HD Surround Vision, enhanced automatic parking assist, adaptive cruise control, and a head-up display.

The 2021 Buick Envision is on sale now, with a starting MSRP of $32,995.

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