2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class CabrioletEnlarge Photo
TRW head-protecting airbagEnlarge Photo
TRW says that the new system integrates fully into the seat's backrest bolster, working together with the torso protection system, and doesn't rely on an integrated headrest. That will make it much easier for automakers to meet seat-based (anti-whiplash) rear-impact requirements, such as those from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in the U.S.
Different-size occupants and loads are also easier to accommodate, the supplier notes. Today's systems are very expensive—especially for convertible models that are sometimes made in limited numbers—and leave automakers in some cases to improvise, offering safety that's slightly compromised versus coupe or sedan versions.
For instance, in the 2010 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet, one of the newest convertible models with an exemplary safety roster, there are nine airbags, plus Neck-Pro active head restraints, and a pop-up rollbar. And that's supplemented with many active-safety features.
TRW also says that the so-called HPSC II system is more compact than the systems it replaces and saves weight overall.
There's certainly a demand for the system. According to the supplier, there are 18 convertible model launches in Europe in 2010 alone.
Looking at the continued growth of convertible sales in the U.S. market as well, it's hard to believe that back in the late 1970s the ragtop was nearly extinct—and actually unavailable in any mass-market form. But in the 1980s, cars like the Chrysler LeBaron and Mazda Miata kickstarted new convertible trends, then this past decade thanks to folding hardtops and advanced systems like this airbag technology, we've been able to enjoy open-air driving without severely compromising safety.
The new second-generation system will launch in a vehicle from a “major European vehicle manufacturer” in 2013.