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BMW ANNOUNCES REVAMPED AIR BAG DEPLOYED FROM ROOF.

Byline: Brian S. Akre Associated Press text

BMW wants to be the first automaker to offer cars with a new air bag that deploys from the roof to protect the head and neck in side-impact crashes.

The new safety feature will be standard on the 1998 7-series sedans that go on sale in June, the German automaker announced Wednesday at the press preview of the New York International Automobile Show.

It is the latest of several innovations in air-bag technology that automakers plan to incorporate in new models over the next several years.

Side impacts account for 31 percent of all vehicle crashes, but 36 percent of vehicle fatalities, BMW said.

The automaker said its new, tubular air bag works with door-mounted air bags, which protect the torso in a side-impact crash. The new bag deploys from the roof above the front doors and from within the front roof pillars, protecting drivers and front-seat passengers.

The bag is a five-foot tube, 1.5 inches in diameter. Upon impact, an inflator at one end of the tube is triggered electronically, filling the tube with an inert gas.

Fully inflated, it stretches in a straight line from the lower windshield pillar to the roof, in the area where the driver or passenger's head would strike the window or pillars.

Unlike a conventional front air bag, which deflates quickly after impact, BMW's tubular bag is designed to stay inflated for about six seconds. As a result, it provides protection in secondary impacts before the vehicle comes to a stop.

The new bag eventually will be installed in all BMW sedans, said Henrich Heitmann, chief executive of BMW (US) Holding Co.

Ford Motor Co. is working on a similar technology, which will debut on at least one 1998 model and more in 1999, said spokesman Dave Giroux. Ford's design uses a single, rectangular bag that, when inflated, extends from the lower torso to the head.

Mercedes-Benz is planning to introduce a curtain-style, roof-mounted air bag that will come down in front of the driver and front passenger in a crash. It is scheduled to debut on its 2000 model-year S-class sedans in 1999, said spokesman Fred Heiler.

Other technology under study by automakers and air bag manufacturers involves so-called ``smart'' systems that automatically adjust the deployment force based on the size and position of the occupant, using radar, ultrasound, infrared and other sensing devices.

Heiler said such technology is still years away from use in air bags.

Fast-deploying air bags have been blamed for the deaths of 38 children and infants, and 24 adults - mostly shorter women - in low-speed accidents that should not have killed them.

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Photo: Designed to protect the head and neck, BMW's new air bag will be standard on 1998 7-series sedans.

Associated Press
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Title Annotation:BUSINESS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 27, 1997
Words:466
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