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Thread: Next up: Outside Air Bags

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Jul 2006
    The Land of The Edentulites

    Next up: Outside Air Bags

    The air bag thing is about to get really out of hand.

    And really, really expensive.

    Apparently, it's not enough that most cars now have four (or six) air bags inside. Volvo thinks it's time to put air bags on the outside of cars, too. For the sake, not of the children, but of pedestrians. The Swedish automaker last week revealed a prototype S40 equipped with an outside air bag. It deploys in the event of a pedestrian flying over the hood, cushioning his impact at the windshield. The hood raises up slightly and the u-shaped bag erupts from the cowl area.

    Volvo cites (predictably) the lives that could be saved, the injuries averted. No mention, as usual, of the downsides - which are not limited to cost this time, either.

    Maybe there are no deer in Sweden.

    A deer is a lot like a person ambling across the Interstate. A full-grown buck weighs about the same as a full-grown man. When you 'round a curve and there stands Bambi - it's not unlike encountering Sven suddenly trying to occupy the same space as your car's front bumper. Only if you happen to be driving the Volvo Outside Air Bag Car, you can expect more than a dented front clip. You can expect the sheer terror that will come from no longer being able to see a god-damned thing because your view is obstructed by a big balloon. Instead of totaling the deer, you'll total your car - maybe yourself, too. I doubt Volvo has figured out how to engineer sensors that can distinguish a human in the road from a hooved rat in the road.

    And of course, you can expect these Next Gen air bags to be the next thing mandated by the government. The pull is just too irresistible. Volvo - and every other car company, plus the suppliers of all the components involved - knows very well these bags are another way to increase their (rent-seeking) profit margin. The outside air bags will not be supplied at cost. They will be supplied at cost-plus. Just like the airbags you've already got or rather, which you were forced to buy. All the odious warbling about "safety" aside, the bottom line is the bottom line. Doubt it? Then watch what happens in the coming weeks and months. There will be a PR/lobbying campaign to pressure lawmakers. And these lawmakers, of course, will have every reason to issue the new fatwa. Who, after all, could be against safety? It's all about saving lives! There is that.
    And there is also the monetary pressure that will be brought to bear by the industrial combines - you know, the car companies. This is how we got the first air bags - after they were rejected by the marketplace. When consumers don't want something, make them buy it. It's so much more efficient.

    It's also brilliantly deceptive. When the first air bags came out as optional equipment back in the '70s, the cost of the option was both high and plainly visible. But like tax withholding, when government mandates something be added to the car's roster of standard equipment, you never get to see the price of that particular item. All you see is the bottom line price of the car. It makes it all go down so much easier - especially with zero percent interest and low, low monthly payments.

    So, what are we looking at here?

    Volvo didn't quote any figures and no one's got any estimates out in the public domain. But another several hundred bucks per car at the retail level - at the very least - is a reasonable guess. There will be the bag itself, plus all the associated sensors and wiring, plus modified hood designs that operate in concert with the deploying bag.

    I suspect the really big costs, though, will come in the form of much higher crash-repair costs after relatively minor impacts. Current inside air bags are set up to go off only in the event of a pretty serious accident. But much less force is involved when you strike a deer, say - as opposed to another car.

    Now, in addition to the minor bodywork, you'll also have the expense of replacing that outside air bag. For an idea of the cost, ask a body shop (or insurance adjuster) how much it costs to replace the driver and front seat bags (which means, replacing the entire steering wheel and - usually - the dashboard, too) after they deploy. The average cost for that is in the neighborhood of $2,000.

    So, deer strikes are about to get a lot more expensive. Your insurance bill, too. Because the potential repair costs (including the ever-lowering "total" threshold) reflect in your premiums.

    But oh, the lives that will be saved!

    Yes, indeed. Eventually and probably not too far down the road, driving will be so expensive that more and more of us will be walking. And that will save even more lives.

    Maybe they'll start requiring us to be fitted with air bags at that point?

    I would not be surprised... .

  2. #2
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    Jul 2006
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