11/1/1999 | 5 MINUTE READ

Ford Plays It Safe

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Safety is a key characteristic of the 2000 Taurus.According to Stephen T.


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Safety is a key characteristic of the 2000 Taurus.

According to Stephen T. Kozak, manager, Restraints & Seat Dept.—RVT, Ford is offering on a $20,000 vehicle a sophisticated safety system that in some ways eclipses the capabilities of systems found on two German-built cars that cost a significant multiple of the Taurus sticker. It's safety for the rest of us.

Collectively, the array of sensors and processors is called the "Personal Safety System." Among its elements are a crash severity sensor mounted behind the grille; a restraints control module with crash severity sensing capability; a driver seat position sensor; safety belt buckle switch; safety belt pretensioners; belt energy management retractors; and a dual-stage driver airbag inflator.

All of the electronic elements are orchestrated by an array of application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) that's called the "Restraints Control Module." Essentially, the system determines whether the seat belt is buckled (to help encourage belt use, a "Belt Minder" system will, if the belt isn't buckled, activate a light on the instrument panel and sound a chime to encourage the driver to engage the belt), where the driver is in relationship to the steering wheel (via measured seat position), and the severity of the crash (using the sensor mounted behind the grille). When a crash occurs, the belt pretensioner tightens the belt to prevent sliding and bouncing in/off the seat; the energy management retractor, a metal bar with the spool of the safety belt retractor, will actually deform (twist) if the crash force is sufficiently great such that there is a controlled release of the belt's webbing so as to help minimize chest industry (i.e., the retractor gives so one's rib cage doesn't). And, finally, the dual-stage airbag deploys (1) only if the sensed severity of the crash is high enough and (2) with one of two energy levels corresponding to the measured parameters. Kozak says that the system will cut the rate of airbag deployments in half when the occupants are belted in the vehicle.

There are other safety elements, like optimal side airbags for the driver and front passenger (they operate independently from the front airbags), and energy-absorbing elements, ranging from the high-strength steel side intrusion beams in the doors to armrests that collapse in the event of an accident.

Arguably, all of this emphasis on safety is not only a consumer-oriented benefit, but also a means by which the Taurus can be differentiated from key competitors, such as Camry and Accord.

It is also an indication of the direction that Ford will be taking on future programs, so suppliers involved in sensors and safety-related systems should find that there are increasing opportunities with the world's second largest vehicle manufacturer, and presumably with other builders, who will undoubtedly follow Ford's lead.

With the exception of the windshield and the doors, the 2000 Taurus is all new. Dave Marinaro, chief program engineer for 2000 Taurus, calculates that there are in excess of 930 parts that are different from those found on the '99 model. But he admits that it is difficult to determine just what constitutes a "part" in this age of modularity. Visually, the car is far more rectilinear in appearance than its predecessor, a vehicle that some consumers considered excessively ovoid. So though it could be construed that Ford is playing it safe from a design standpoint, Marinaro emphasizes that the design is still distinctive and that the team's focus was on the consumer (and with some four million Taurus owners, there is plenty of consumer information available).

Manufacturing Issues

One of the ways that Ford is able to provide the safety systems in an economical vehicle is through the implementation of improved manufacturing operations at its Atlanta and Chicago assembly plants, where the cars are built. Additionally, there has been greater freedom given to suppliers. Marinaro explains that the suppliers were provided with a "functional spec." The suppliers then figured out how to meet those requirements in the most efficient manner. For example, Arvin Industries provides the exhaust system. In the previous generation Taurus, there was a dual exhaust system. The engineers at Arvin determined how to achieve the necessary back pressure with a single exhaust system. "This saves both weight and cost," program manager Don Baker observes.

Another place where there are cost savings is the decklid, which had been aluminum but has gone back to steel on the new vehicle. Marinaro notes that although aluminum did provide a weight advantage, it is more expensive than steel. The weight has been kept trim on the vehicle through other means, such as the utilization of composite cam covers and intake manifold.

Accuracy in build is important to the 2000 Taurus. Baker provides two distinct but related features where this is obvious. On the previous Taurus, there is a urethane ditch cover on the roof, where the roof panel meets the body side. The width of the urethane strip provides the opportunity to mask inconsistencies in component mating. On the 2000 Taurus, there is a metal ditch molding. This is not nearly as forgiving as the urethane. So the fit of the roof and body side is much more critical.

That fit-up is also key with regard to the backlight. The rectangular backlight is fitted flush to the body: the molding that ordinarily surrounds the glass has been eliminated. Consequently, both the size of the opening and the placement of the glass are both critical.

Not surprisingly, Baker notes, "The biggest change is in the body shop." To accommodate quicker changes, kitted tools were employed to make the switch from the '99 to '00 models in a timely manner.

To help assure that the 2000 Taurus literally came together as it should, 150 product specialists—75 from each of the assembly plants—spent six weeks in Dearborn performing static builds and providing input with regard to the assembly of the vehicle. These people, upon return to Atlanta and Chicago, then helped train their colleagues in the build methodology.

One term that Marinaro uses to describe the execution of the 2000 Taurus in all of its aspects is "craftsmanship." From the solid "thunk" of the doors to the quiet ride to more powerful engines to even metalized trim on the plastic HVAC louver adjusters, the attention to detail is evident in this new vehicle.


2000 Taurus
Note that the backlight is fitted flush to the body on the 2000 Taurus. The elimination of the glass surround molding requires that the opening be consistent and that glass is precisely placed in position.