General Motors will outfit the ’13 Chevrolet Cruze small car with new single-stage airbag technology that protect the driver as well as more complex and costlier 2-stage airbags.

GM says the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. already has put the ’13 Cruze with the driver’s side single-stage airbag technology through crash testing, and it earned the government agency’s highest 5-star rating. The Cruze also earned 5-star crash ratings in ’11 and ’12, when it used dual-stage airbag technology.

The industry used single-stage technology when airbags were widely introduced in the 1980s, but some injuries were reported due to high inflation speeds. The arrival of present-day 2-stage airbags mostly resolved the issue by using one inflator for low-speed crashes and a second inflator for high-speed ones, but inflation injuries persist.

GM’s new single-stage airbag, which it considers an industry first and goes in North American units only, uses a single inflator to manage both low-speed and high-speed crash forces. The key enabler, GM says, is a “flexible vent” inside the unit that deflates the airbag according to the force of the driver against the cushion.

In other words, the driver’s momentum pushes the air out of the cushion to reduce inflation-related injuries. GM says the technology also better protects larger-statured occupants. It is more compact, less complex and cheaper than current 2-stage airbags.

“This new airbag technology is a smart way to manage crash forces, and is an integral part of Cruze’s continued success in safety testing,” Gay Kent, general director-vehicle safety and crashworthiness at GM, says in a statement.

“The latest safety rating reflects the confidence we have in its new and carryover safety technologies and overall crashworthiness.”

GM declines to say which future products also may receive the new airbag system.

The auto maker co-developed the technology with safety-restraint supplier Takata.

GM also worked with Takata to bring to market the industry’s first front-center airbag. The technology appears as standard equipment on the ’13 Chevy Traverse, Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia large cross/utility vehicles with power seats.

The front-center airbag system protects first-row passengers in far-side impact crashes, in which the head and torso of the driver and passenger often collide.

jamend@wardsauto.com