New Ford Explorer Will Have Curve Control System

Automaker is upgrading the electronic stability control system on its 2011 Ford Explorer to help the SUV perform better if a driver takes a curve too quickly.

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) -- Ford Motor Co. is upgrading the electronic stability control system on its 2011 Ford Explorer to help the SUV perform better if a driver takes a curve too quickly.

The curve control system uses the same sensors as Ford's stability control system, which monitors the steering wheel angle, wheel speed, tilt of the vehicle and other inputs 100 times per second. Stability control cuts the engine's power and applies the brakes to individual wheels if it senses a driver going off-course. Curve control adds another layer of monitoring and can cut power even more quickly if it senses the SUV isn't turning as fast as the driver wants it to. Curve control will be able to drop the Explorer's speed by as much as 10 miles per hour in a second.

The system will be standard on the Explorer, which comes out late this year. Ford plans to add it to 90 percent of its North American crossovers, sport utility vehicles, trucks and vans by 2015.

Curve control will complement, but not override, a driver's own braking action, said Tony Rendi, Ford's manager for brake controls. When a driver hits the brakes, curve control can add more pressure to the individual brakes that are most needed. The system also can react more quickly than a driver can.

Ford says there are more than 50,000 crashes on curves each year in the U.S. alone.

"Something like this, we've all done it, and you can appreciate why you would need it," Rendi said.

The system will be the first of its kind on the market, according to Ali Jammoul, Ford's chief engineer of global chassis engineering. Ford, based in Dearborn, Mich., began developing curve control internally about 18 months ago and has a patent pending on it.

Most cars in the U.S. now have stability control, which the federal government will require on all vehicles by the 2012 model year. Ford's electronic stability control system was first introduced on Volvo cars in 2003.

David Champion, senior director of auto testing for Consumer Reports, said he hasn't tested Ford's system but has been briefed on it and believes it will be more effective than standard stability control.

Stability control has its limitations, Champion said. It's designed to prevent oversteer, which is when the back end loses traction, slides out and may cause the car to spin. But it's less effective at controlling understeer, which is when the wheels continue to go straight even though the driver wants them to turn.

"It slows the vehicle down but can't keep the car on the course," Champion said.

In a recent demonstration at Ford's test track, a 2011 Explorer without curve control made it around a curve of cones at 50 miles per hour but swung out toward the end and stopped in an area outside the cones. When curve control was engaged, the SUV slowed down rapidly in the middle of the curve and stayed within the cones for the length of the test.

The 2011 Explorer will be a platform for several new safety technologies, including the industry's first rear inflatable seat belts, a terrain management system for various on- and off-road conditions and a collision warning system.

Jammoul said Ford is developing other new features related to the stability control sensors, including systems that integrate steering and braking and improvements to Ford's parking assist system.