Remarks by Tomiji Sugimoto
Senior Chief Engineer, Honda R&D Co., Ltd.
Management Briefing Seminars - August 7, 2003
Thank you, Dave. And good morning ladies and gentlemen. It is a real honor for me to be here today. When we consider the question "Are we changing fast enough?" - there is a stunning amount of change that influences the safety of the vehicles we make. And the consequences of our actions have a direct and immediate impact on people's lives.
I have spent the last 25 years of my life focused largely on safety issues. And in the late 1970s, I was one of only four people in Honda working on air bag research. Many people thought air bags were an impossible dream. And I wasn't sure I wanted to keep working in this area. But my boss told me "If you continue, you could be one of the five most important air bag engineers in the entire world." I thought to myself "Wow!" And this motivated me a great deal. Then, in 1985, I came to the U.S. and I found so many engineers doing the same thing as me - I thought maybe my boss had tricked me.
Somehow, I have a similar feeling standing here today. I may be one of the leaders of Honda's safety efforts, but looking out at this audience -- with so many talented engineers -- makes me feel very insignificant indeed.
This morning, I want to address Honda's vision of "safety for everyone" by discussing our development of technologies based on real world studies that seek to reduce the threat of injury in today's traffic environment. This includes some new areas that we believe should receive more attention from the entire industry.
At Honda, as a full-line maker producing a range of vehicles from small cars to large light duty vehicles - as well as other mobility products -- we believe we must do our best to use technology and innovation to help further protect all road users. Further, we hold efficiency and commitment to the environmental challenge as fundamental objectives.
Thus, we are committed to advancing safety without simply increasing mass. Our concept promotes safety for the drivers and passengers of small cars as well as large vehicles, safety for riders of motorcycles and ATVs, and safety for pedestrians. In other words, safety for everyone who shares the road in our mobile society.
Our efforts to achieve safety in this mobile society have followed three different approaches: education, active safety and passive safety. I don't have time today to review our wide-ranging efforts at safety education. But in Japan, we have actively trained more than 4 million people in the safer driving or riding of motor vehicles. Here in the U.S., we have established 4 rider education centers for beginner and advanced training for motorcycles and ATVs. In addition, we have long supported a number of public driver education efforts, including numerous seat belt use campaigns.
When it comes to the products we produce, Honda has always believed that safety begins with the dynamic ability of a motor vehicle to help its driver avoid an accident. These so-called "active" safety measures include maintaining a clear field of vision for the driver, designing controls for easy operation, and advanced suspension technologies. These basic "go, stop, turn" functions of an automobile helped earn Honda and Acura products a reputation for being fun-to-drive. But Honda engineers also view these as active safety features. And this was our first focus in safety.
Anti-lock brakes, traction control and Vehicle Stability Assist systems are further advances in active safety technology. And ever more sophisticated "intelligent" safety technologies are being developed thanks to the innovation and progress of vehicle electronics. This will impact the vehicles we make and the infrastructure required to support it.
For instance, we recently introduced a new type of active safety technology in Japan - so-called pre-crash safety technology that incorporates millimeter wave radar technology. This is the world's first Collision Mitigation Brake System to detect possible rear-end collisions and assist brake operation to minimize any impact on the occupants.
This represents just the first stage in the practical application of these technologies. But they hold great promise for the future. Ultimately, through new technologies and continued innovation, our dream is to develop so-called "accident free" vehicles in the future.
But at this point -- in the real world -- passive safety, especially crash safety, is directly linked to helping protect the lives of our customers. So, over the past several decades, crash safety has been an important subject for us.
The crash safety of a car is addressed primarily with two different approaches: reducing sudden deceleration on vehicle occupants and securing cabin space for their survival. Both areas are critical to a reduction in occupant injury levels. The key to achieving this is to control the G-forces experienced during a collision by the vehicle and its occupants.
At Honda, we call the technologies based upon this concept G-Force Control Technology - or G-Con. This is the basis for all of our passive safety technologies. One of the key technologies to address occupant safety within the G-Con concept are passive restraints. And air bag technology continues to grow in its importance in addressing this issue in the real world.
I recall that in the early '80s, the direction for air bags was not clear. There was no established supplier base.
And many of the suppliers that had begun work in this area were reluctant to share information with a company like Honda that actually wanted to deeply understand the technologies.
Honda always wants to know "Why, why, why" -- developing our own technologies independently. This approach creates technologies for our customers today. But because our engineers understand how these technologies were created, we can continue to make advances that will benefit our customers tomorrow.
So, we partnered with several companies from the aerospace industry. This included one company whose primary business was with ejection seats in fighter jets. These companies did not hesitate to answer our questions and share information about things like reliability, performance and cost.
Through this collaborative process, we developed a unique approach. First, we were able to reduce the size and weight of the devices - which was important to the character of Honda vehicles. We achieved tremendous functional reliability - which is critical to a one-shot device such as an air bag. We were also able to reduce the cost of the overall unit -- an issue that was important in making air bags acceptable to the customer. But there were other important differences.
For instance, our passenger side air bag was innovative because it deployed upward toward the windshield rather than directly at the passengers. We believed it was important to avoid direct inflation into an out of position occupant, including children. By deploying our bag from the top dash we avoided the direct inflation that would later be considered potentially so threatening to safety.
The core understanding of air bags we gained through early investment in technology has served us well as we have continued to advance passive restraint technology. Honda has been an early adopter of dual stage, dual threshold air bags that utilize both crash severity and seat belt use to determine deployment. And we were one of the first to introduce side air bags for the front seat passenger with out of position sensors for children and small stature adults. We will continue to build on these technologies and on Honda's philosophical approach. This is our legacy.
But the challenge of achieving crash safety and reducing occupant injury levels also means improving the crashworthiness of the body structure of an automobile. And as an important component of our G-Con technology, Honda has developed a body frame structure that helps control the deceleration G-forces that affect a vehicle in a collision. The goal is to overcome two contradictory challenges - absorbing impact energy and securing the cabin space. We have been applying this body structure to our production models - importantly, including small-size vehicles.
As an example, here you can see the G-Con structure applied to the midsize 2003 Accord. In a severe frontal collision, the Accord's steel sub-frame slides rearward in a controlled manner to further absorb energy. This is an additional 100mm of crush zone - without increasing the size of the engine room. Carefully designed load paths help maintain the integrity of the passenger compartment during a collision. Frontal impact energy is efficiently dispersed to reduce cabin deformation.
Our G-Con Technology, including both airbags and body frame structures, has already achieved a large measure of success. Including all vehicles through the 2003 model year, only ten current vehicles earned Five Star safety ratings from the NHTSA for the driver and front passenger in front-impact and driver and rear seat passenger in side-impact crash tests. Five of these ten are Honda vehicles -- the Odyssey, Pilot, CR-V, Accord Coupe, and the Civic Coupe with side airbags. And only three passenger car lines in the world have earned an IIHS Offset "Best Pick" together with 5-star front and side NCAP ratings - and two of these three are the Civic and Accord.
The Civic Coupe further demonstrates our long-held belief that small cars can provide good levels of protection -- and that safety can and must apply to mainstream vehicles. With G-con technology, it has achieved the highest rated safety level in its class.
We are very proud of these achievements. But, at Honda, it is now clear to us that to achieve even better safety for small cars we need something more. The fixed barrier test currently in use simulates a vehicle colliding into a stationary object or a collision between two vehicles of approximately equal weight. In Japan, such collisions account for 60 percent of traffic fatalities for four-wheeled vehicles. However, the remaining 40 percent of fatal accidents occur in collisions between two vehicles where there is a significant weight difference, raising the issue of "vehicle compatibility."
Further, here in the U.S., light trucks have - for several years - accounted for almost half of the new car sales market. This increases concern about accidents between vehicles of different weights. And we need a new type of test to replicate this type of collision.
As a result, Honda has been conducting independent research into "vehicle-to-vehicle collisions" to explore crash safety technology in "real world" terms.
To facilitate this research, we built a new $64 million dollar crash test safety facility that opened in 2000, located within our Tochigi R&D Center in Japan.
This is not just a place to crash test cars; it is a full-fledged research facility where we can crash vehicles together at various angles and speeds and re-create collisions close to those in the real world. To give you some perspective, the test area in this facility is roughly the same size as the baseball field at Comerica Park in Detroit. But it is an indoor facility, so our tests never get rained out.
Honda has conducted research through crash tests with vehicles of various sizes. We have found that the small cars utilized in our tests are capable of withstanding full frontal collisions and offset collisions against a fixed barrier. But our vehicle-to-vehicle crash tests very clearly showed that occupant injury levels and body deformation occurred with the smaller car to a degree not fully seen before in barrier tests.
In vehicle to vehicle accidents, the heavy parts of one vehicle, such as the engine or transmission, can form a mass that strikes another vehicle with a concentrated force. We need to address this by designing the structure with points of contact that better bear the force of a concentrated mass from another vehicle. At the same time, the structure should be configured so that its mass does not concentrate in one area.
Importantly, what constitutes aggressiveness has not been clearly defined anywhere in the world - due to differences in body structure, size and relative weights. We continue to study front-end construction and those factors that may cause override or underride. And we're looking into ways to reduce the aggressiveness of large vehicles without compromising their own self-defense.
Based on these findings and by further advancing the G-force control technology, we have been able to secure a level of self-defense for small vehicles against a vehicle weighing more than 1.5 times more in specific tests. This was true for the Civic Sedan in this test with an Acura MDX. As you can see, the Civic cabin maintains its structural integrity.
But the vehicle compatibility issue is still far from resolved. Honda's approach is not simply to view products as small or large. Our goal is to achieve an improvement in self defense and a reduction in aggressiveness for every vehicle, regardless of its size.
We have begun to take the first significant fruits from our crash test facility in terms of body structure design - by taking our G-force control concept to the next stage. In the coming weeks, we hope to make an announcement about a new body structure that will help address this issue of vehicle-to-vehicle crash compatibility.
Further, at Honda, we believe the term "compatibility" does not apply just to collisions between vehicles. In focusing on "safety for everyone" - we believe compatibility means improving safety for all road users. This includes the protection of pedestrians, who are powerless in the face of motorized machines.
If you look at the universe of fatal traffic accidents in each major market, you can see that pedestrian deaths rank second. Even in the U.S., where you may not hear a lot about accidents involving pedestrians, there were almost 5,000 pedestrian deaths per year at the time of our study. In fact, we have begun a new relationship with the CIREN Center in Virginia. One focus of this effort is obtaining more real world data about accidents involving pedestrians.
When we analyzed our initial research, we discovered that injuries to the head represented more than 60 percent of fatal pedestrian accidents. So, we focused first on head-injury-reducing technology. Pedestrian crash tests in Europe and elsewhere use a component test - such as head impacters - that may not be ideal in recreating the real world accident situation. We felt it was essential to better understand the kinematics involved when the human body makes contact with a vehicle. So, in 1998, we created a pedestrian dummy of our own design.
Our 2nd generation pedestrian dummy, the POLAR II, has unique joint structures that faithfully represent those of the human body. Instruments in POLAR II also measure the level of injury in eight regions, including the neck, abdomen and legs. This is the most advanced pedestrian dummy in the world. And we have made it available to NHTSA and other organizations in the U.S., Japan and Europe in the cooperative effort to improve pedestrian protection.
The creation of pedestrian dummies and testing at our crash test facility has provided us with new insight into the dynamics of vehicle to pedestrian accidents in the real world. We have learned that vehicle configuration and the front profile of the vehicle - areas like bumper height and lead, hood edge height, and hood length - affect the kinetic behavior of a pedestrian.
This helped us determine the type and severity of injury. Honda's leading study - which is the basis for the Japanese regulation - uses three different vehicle styles that more accurately reflect real world dynamics. We began implementing body design features for pedestrian protection in 1998 in Japan. We have never announced this before. But, today, U.S. models with these features include the Honda Civic, CR-V, Pilot, Element and Accord and the Acura TSX and RSX.
The principle of our design efforts is to help absorb energy or prevent rapid deceleration of the human body. Here you can see some of these features in the 2003 Honda Accord. Where the structure of the fender to the frame was directly attached in the past, it now includes a space to absorb impact energy. We also modified the wiper pivot with slots that enable it to break away to help absorb energy. And we redesigned the hood hinge and the hood so that they bend with the force of an impact.
Some of these changes seem simple - each results in a significant reduction in the potential for head injuries. We continue to study this issue, together with our other efforts, with the hope to further contribute to activities that improve pedestrian safety.
Looking ahead, we understand that it will be impossible for any company to achieve safety for everyone without involving everyone in the industry. This means greater cooperation among automakers, governments and the various third parties involved in the debate.
Mixed traffic is a reality of today's world. And everyone is entitled to the use and benefits of the road in our mobile society. At Honda, we are committed to pursuing a course of action that acknowledges this as our responsibility. In particular, as a maker of small cars, light trucks, motorcycles and other products that provide people mobility - we are committed to the concept of "safety for everyone".
And through this commitment, it is our goal to become "a company that society wants to exist." Thank you for your attention.