August 9, 2002

Consumers not educated about new safety features, says CEO

Traverse City, Michigan – The President of a leading supplier of automotive safety systems said yesterday that automakers are doing a poor job of educating consumers about new vehicle safety systems, such as stability control.

“Despite major advances in safety equipment to avoid crashes and protect occupants when crashes occur, we have not done the job as an industry telling consumers and others about these strides,” said William Kozyra, President and CEO of Continental Teves. “We are on the threshold of a true revolution in safety technology, but it all means nothing at the end of the road if the consumer doesn’t understand, accept and adopt its value.” He called on auto manufacturers and suppliers to join forces to inform consumers, regulators and others.

Speaking at the University of Michigan Management Briefing Seminars, Kozyra said, “For the most part, new car and truck buyers – and dealers for that matter – simply are not aware of the innovations we’ve brought to market.”

He explained that safety technology is moving faster than anyone envisioned a decade ago because of the electronic integration of various safety components and systems, such as anti-lock brakes, stability enhancement, and chassis mechanical and control systems. Yet, technologies that are already available and others in the development pipeline are not being marketed aggressively to prevent crashes, save lives, and reduce costs.

He pointed to vehicle rollovers as an example. The continuing popularity of SUVs and other light trucks, with their higher centres of gravity, account for 26 percent of all serious and fatal injuries in crashes. Rollover prevention is a priority with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and many other safety organizations. Yet, many consumers are unaware that stability control systems are available today, and hold much promise of preventing a rollover from occurring and helping handle other out-of-control situations.

“At Continental we have Electronic Stability Program (ESP) that can help prevent rollovers and maintain control. Competitors have similar systems. It’s available. It’s out there. It’s simple but effective. Auto writers rave about it. In fact, we already have successor technology that’s even more sophisticated. But stability control is not widely understood by the retail customer in this country. Most don’t know to ask for it when they walk into the new vehicle showroom.”

“Historically, there was general agreement among regulators, safety advocates, and the auto industry that ‘automotive safety’ meant a combination of actions. There were crash avoidance measures to prevent crashes from happening, and crashworthiness measures to protect occupants once a crash sequence begins. But somewhere in the evolution the focus shifted solely to the latter. In recent years, crash protection for occupants — seat belts, air bags, roof crush, have been almost the sole focus. These are critical safety issues. But so is preventing crashes from occurring in the first place,” Kozyra said.

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