Last Updated Aug 7, 2009 1:15 PM EDT
"We are going to sell this to NASCAR Nation," said Steve Kozak, Ford chief safety engineer, using the term as a synonym for a U.S. mass-market audience. Ironically, Ford is set to sell Volvo, just as it takes some of its biggest steps yet, to get value for the Ford brand out of the Volvo relationship.
Ford is keen to "democratize" such safety devices, which have been pioneered in small volumes with more expensive luxury brands, such as Ford's Volvo, plus even pricier luxury imports like BMW and Mercedes-Benz. In contrast, Ford's collision-avoidance system is available as an option on the 2010 Ford Taurus.
That's partly to advance safety for its own sake.
"We are taking a lot of actions that are going to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities in the United States," Kozak said in an interview here yesterday, Aug. 6.
But marketing-wise, it's also a way for Ford to differentiate itself from other brands. In turn, if Ford can convince people that its safety features and other attributes offer a good value for the money, Ford will also be able to command a higher price premium than other rivals.
Specifically, Kozak was referring to an optional collision-avoidance system that sounds a warning and flashes a row of red lights on the dash in front of the driver, if the distance between you and the vehicle ahead closes too rapidly, indicating a possible crash.
The system also "pre-charges" the brakes, closing the distance between the brake pads and the brake rotors. That reduces by a critical split-second the amount of time it takes for the pads to grip the rotor and slow or stop the car, once the driver actually steps on the brake pedal.
As Volvo uses it, the Volvo system automatically applies the brakes to slow the car if the driver doesn't respond in time, even if the driver never steps on the brake pedal. The latest generation of the Volvo system will even bring a car to a complete halt, from speeds up to 19 mph.
Kuzak said Ford consciously chose to stick to a version of the system that warns the driver but doesn't actually apply the brakes.
"The Volvo customer is a different customer. They're buying the car specifically because of the safety features. We (at Ford) have had people tell us they don't want something that's going to make their decisions for them," he said.