Ford, GM race to dominate SUV stability-control issue

DETROIT: Ford and General Motors are stepping up PR efforts around new stability controls for SUVs.

DETROIT: Ford and General Motors are stepping up PR efforts around new stability controls for SUVs.

The automakers both unveiled stability-control system availability on their respective SUVs on the same day, November 11, each grabbing a share of the widespread media coverage that followed.

The battle is largely fueled by third-party research that shows such systems can help in preventing SUV rollovers.

Ford fired first, announcing early in the day that its stability-control technology would be standard on a variety of its SUVs. GM followed with a press release later that day saying it would make stability controls standard on all full-size and midsize SUVs next year.

Alan Adler, manager of product safety communications at GM, said GM's announcement was made because "we were ready to go and went with what we had."

Asked about the timing of GM's subsequent announcement, he said, "I think leadership's pretty important" on the stability-control issue. GM noted in its release that it had been offering stability control technology in cars since 1997.

GM recorded more than 6.1 million media impressions for its announcement, with 73 local newscasts and seven national newscasts reporting on it, Adler said. GM made b-roll available that showcased how its stability control works.

In its announcement, Ford emphasized that it had stability-control technology that included sensors that can tell if an SUV's wheels are lifting off the ground. Other manufacturers don't offer that feature, said Carolyn Brown, manager of environmental and safety engineering public affairs at Ford.

Ford has offered to sell the new technology to competitors.

Stability control is "going to be out there as an issue that's going to get more attention," said Brown. Ford will continue discussing it in PR efforts next year, she said.

GM plans to continue hammering away, as well. "The message that we're trying to drive is that General Motors has pre-crash, during-crash, and after-crash technology," said Adler, referring to stability controls, airbags, and GM's OnStar system, which can send a crash alert from a vehicle after an accident has occurred.

SUV stability became a national news topic several years ago during the Ford/Firestone tire controversy.

More recently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have said adding stability controls to SUVS could improve safety.

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