Special Coverage

NADA Convention & Exposition

ORLANDO, FL – Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd. is ready to commit to vehicle-safety advancements to dramatically reduce crash deaths, a top U.S. official says.

The goal would be to make cars safe enough to prevent most vehicle-occupant fatalities by 2020, says Hyundai Motor America Inc. CEO John Krafcik.

Safety-conscious Volvo Car Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.’s Infiniti luxury division have established similar objectives.

“It’s a bold position, and we’re going to be working on it, so stay tuned,” Krafcik says in an address at the American International Automobile Dealers Assn.’s annual meeting during the National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention here.

The impact would be monumental if all auto companies signed on, he says. “When it comes to safety, we can always do better.”

The annual U.S. traffic fatality rate is about 45,000. “That remains a very stubborn number,” Krafcik says. Driver error is responsible for most traffic deaths.

He foresees advancements in modern safety technology that currently can sense driver error and correct it through the likes of automatic braking and lane-departure avoidance systems.

“Some things you can’t control,” Krafcik tells Ward’s after his AIADA speech. “But what you can provide is something that seems like an invisible, benevolent hand to put a car back on course if it senses a driver is trying to defy the laws of physics.”

In such situations, the question from a systems standpoint is, “What can we do to step in and how?” he says. Other issues center on the degree of control a driver is willing to relinquish to an active safety system.

Technology can’t counteract all human driving errors, Krafcik says. “But it is not a stretch to envision people surviving crashes that they don’t survive today. Just embracing that philosophy creates a whole new way of thinking. It becomes a mindset.”

Meanwhile, he tells the dealer audience Hyundai “has always been dealer-centric.” The new AIADA chairman, Rick DeSilva, is a Hyundai dealer.

The South Korean brand currently is considered a hot franchise because of its sales and recent products, such as the award-winning Genesis sedan and coupe. About half of the vehicles Hyundai sells in the U.S. are made here.

There are 790 Hyundai dealers in the U.S. Any expansion of the dealership network “will be with our existing partners,” Krafcik says.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com