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Curtain call for Focus

Top marks: Focus II scored a maximum five-star European crash test rating - with side curtain airbags.

Ford insists its new Focus small car will be safe - without curtain airbags

Ford logo1 Jun 2005

By NEIL MCDONALD

FORD Australia will launch its new-generation Focus small car this month without the option of curtain airbags found in some of its key rivals.

In Europe it is available with curtain airbags to supplement the front and side airbags, which will be standard on all but the entry-level models here.

The car, which shares its body architecture with the Mazda3 and Volvo S40, achieved the highest possible five-star crash rating in the latest European New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), which included the curtain airbags.

However, Ford Australia believes the Focus’ strong passive safety featureswill more than compensate for the lack of one of the latest life-saving devices widely acclaimed by road safety experts.

Ford spokesperson Sinead McAlary said curtain airbags were not available out of the Ford South Africa plant, where the Australian-bound Focus will be built. Nor was Ford likely to be able to offer them in the short term.

"It is something we have requested be investigated, but it’s too early to tell what the outcome will be," she said. "We do believe that Focus will be one of the safest vehicles in its class."The Focus LX, Zetec (pictured below) and Ghia will have dual front and side airbags as standard when the range arrives late in June.

The entry $20,990 CL will have side airbags and anti-lock brakes availableas part of a $1190 safety pack.

Key rival Mazda3 has side and curtain airbags as standard on the Maxx and SP23, while side airbags, curtain airbags and ABS are a $1720 "safety" option on the entry Neo.

Holden’s Astra AH has curtain airbags but they are only available on the up-spec CDXi, not the CD and CDX, which have standard seat-mounted side bags.

Toyota’s best-selling Corolla only offers side airbags on premium modelsand lacks curtain airbags.

27 center imageMazda has trumpeted the strong take-up of its side/curtain airbag and ABS safety pack in the Mazda3 and Mazda2, claiming around 29 per cent of buyers add the option – a significant increase from the five per cent take-up usually experienced for such items.

Mazda spokesman Alastair Doak said Mazda’s experience with curtain airbags and ABS had been positive.

"Buyers will pay for these things if they are competitively priced," he said. "There is a growing awareness that side and curtain airbags do save lives."Ms McAlary said occupant safety was not all about passive safety features.

"The majority of people would rather avoid a crash in the first place and Focus is designed to do that as much as possible," she said. "There is also a long list of improvements to the design and build of the vehicle (such as increased torsional rigidity) that will significantly help protect an occupant during a crash."Ford Australia president Tom Gorman said the arrival of the Focus had a strong chance of helping turn around the fortunes of Ford’s imported car line-up, which includes Fiesta.

"If there’s a weakness that we have – we haven’t cracked the nut on selling imported products successfully, and if we’re really going to grow our market share, hell, you can’t have a three per cent share of the small segment andreally be serious," he said.

However, Mr Gorman warned that Ford would not chase "every last unit just to say we sold a vehicle and sell them at a loss".

"So given that profile of us as a company, we’re probably going to give up some market share until we get to a position where we can really grow the business profitably."

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