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Car industry goes head to head on safety

Safety-conscious: Side-impact airbags - like those seen on the left - protect an occupant's head in an impact.

Deadline looms for 80 per cent of cars and SUVs to have head-protecting side airbags

General News logo27 May 2011

HEAD-protecting side airbags are the next safety item on the agenda after the compulsory inclusion of electronic stability control (ESC) on all passenger cars and SUVs sold in Australia from November this year.

The car industry is just seven months away from its self-imposed January 1 2012 deadline for having 80 per cent of all passenger vehicles fitted with head airbags for at least front seat occupants, and progressively moving to 100 per cent by the start of 2016.

The voluntary code was developed by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) last year to – in part – head off random rules by states such as Victoria which threw the national safety agenda into chaos last year by enforcing compulsory ESC on all cars and SUVs registered in that state from January 1 this year – 11 months before similar federal rules were due to come into force.

Ultimately, a side/pole crash standard now being developed in Australia on behalf of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe – effectively the global crash test standards organisation – will force car-makers to fit a full complement of torso and curtain airbags anyway.

The FCAI is co-operating with the federal transport department on the side-impact standard that not only will be enshrined in the Australian Design Rules (ADR) but adopted for global regulation with the encouragement of the United Nations World Forum for Harmonisation of Vehicle Regulations.

80 center imageLeft: Innovation and industry minister Kim Carr (left) with FCAI president Mike Devereux. Middle: Climate change minister Greg Combet. Below: A head-protecting side airbag.

But in the meantime, a committee within the FCAI is monitoring the advance of head-protecting airbags in the new-car fleet in line with the voluntary code announced last year.

The FCAI is about to do an audit of the airbags on all cars and SUVs currently on the market to check the progress of introduction.

FCAI president Mike Devereux – the chairman and managing director of GM Holden – said at the organisation’s annual dinner in Canberra this week that the industry was moving ahead “quite progressively” with the policy on head-protecting side airbags.

“Again, this policy will also benefit from a dialogue with government,” he said. “At this point, we think about 80 per cent of new cars will have head-protecting side airbags by 2012 with about 100 per cent of cars fully equipped by 2016.” The FCAI also has voluntary targets on CO2 emissions reductions for vehicles sold in Australia, but it will learn soon what the federal government has in mind for a European-style compulsory cap on vehicle CO2.

Transport minister Anthony Albanese is expected to deliver government proposals for the introduction of compulsory CO2 rules and timing for the introduction of compulsory Euro 5 and 6 tailpipe emissions standards sometime soon.

Last year, prime minister Julia Gillard quoted a CO2 national standard of 190 grams per kilometre to apply from 2015, reducing to 155g/km by 2024.

In 2010, under the voluntary CO2 reduction scheme, the motor industry achieved an industry-wide average CO2 emission figure of 213g/km for light vehicles – down 2.7 per cent on 2009.

Also on the agenda at the national level is the federal government’s proposed carbon tax, with the industry warning Canberra that such a tax would put the local car and parts manufacturers at a disadvantage unless measures are put in place to even up the cost balance.

Climate change minister Greg Combet addressed the FCAI annual meeting in Canberra on Wednesday, giving an impassioned speech to motor industry leaders on the merits of putting a price on carbon, moving towards a carbon trading scheme.

Innovation and industry minister Kim Carr followed up the annual dinner on Wednesday night, promised car industry chiefs that the federal government would work with them to build the industry’s needs and priorities into the final settings.

“Auto companies and unions have known for a long time that adaptation simply comes with the territory,” he said.

“They have all signed up to ensuring the car industry moves quickly to produce vehicles that are easier on the environment and easier on motorists' pockets.

“As many of the leading figures here have put to me, they do not want to see their companies presented as opponents to clean industry.

“That's what the New Car Plan for a Greener Future is all about, developed in consultation with the industry and supported by the industry.

“It was built in anticipation of an emissions trading scheme, and it will equip the industry to deal with the carbon price.

“Nonetheless, the government recognises that a successful transition will take careful management in every firm. We want to work with you to build the industry's needs and priorities into the final policy settings.

“The government is moving to finalise its position, with the legislation to be introduced to Parliament in the third quarter of this year.” Mr Devereux told the FCAI annual dinner that the carbon tax could cost the industry $400 million over the next decade.

“The Australian industry is highly trade exposed,” he said. “About 80 per cent of vehicles sold in Australia come from outside Australia, and about 50 per cent of vehicles made in this market are exported.

“A carbon price without a very effective way of offsetting the costs could impact our ability to attract future international investment and to sustain these highly important and critical jobs.

“So we urge the Australian government to ensure that the interests of Australia’s trade exposed industries are fully considered as it finalises what I am sure are what are going to be detail plans on this critically important issue.”

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