Saturday, January 15, 2011

Traffic fatalities, the forgotten war..

As a person who has worked in the automobile industry my whole career, there is one aspect of my business that really bothers me.  The fact that many thousands of my company's customers die each year using our products.  And its not just my company's products, this relates to all motor vehicles.

Granted, the numbers have come down in recent years, I'm sure in large part to government-mandated safer vehicles as well as fewer people driving under the influence.  But still, in 2009 almost 34,000 people died in Ameican traffic fatalities.  Before 2008, there had been 40,000 or more deaths per year every year going back for decades.  Think about the magnitude of that number.  The attacks of 9-11-01 killed some 3,000 people and it sent the entire Nation reeling.  Thats about a normal month of traffic fatalities.  The war in Iraq has resulted in some 4,400 deaths in 7 years and people marched in protest across the Country, even though the number of war dead represented only a small fraction of the traffic fatalities over the same period of time.

I think years from now when people look back at our culture, they will shake their heads in bewilderment why no one seemed all that concerned with the carnage from our beloved automobiles.  100 people a day die in car accidents across the USA.   Where is the  outrage?

I don't think it would be that difficult to make a dramatic improvement to vehicle safety, but it would take a new paradign for the automobile.  Look to motorsports.  NASCAR drivers can hit a wall at 150mph and do cartwheels in their cars down the straightaway and survive.  I say we borrow some design cues and start vehicle design with a full safety cage, give it a roll bar, 5 point belts, and full passenger restraints akin to a rollercoaster ride, even for the head, and then fashion a transportation machine around it.  If it lacks copious power, creature comfort, or smooth, quiet ride, then so be it.  If the car can crash into a tree at 60 mph and the occupants can walk away unharmed, a large number of potential customers will overlook all the other stuff.  Lots of people will want the ultra safe car, if not for themselves, then for their kids.

This is the car no one builds.  And my advice to automakers is to get out of the rat race of building cars that are the same thing only incrementally different than all the competition and selling them for little if any profit. Instead, build a car that no one else builds and then the demand for the car will support higher pricing and margins.  The ultra safe car would be a good example of the car no one builds.  Every person who lives through a wreck will provide free testimonial advertising you couldn't buy at any price.  I think it would change the way people view cars.  They aren't supposed to be toys or comfy couches on wheels.  They are supposed to get you to your destination on time and in one piece.    

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