DETROIT -- Even though General Motors Corp. gave up on them, Mercedes-Benz of North America says it will offer air bags on some of its 1984 model cars.
The air-bag option, announced Friday, will be part of a supplemental restraint system option that can be added to standard seat belts for the driver and front-seat passenger.
Air bags will be offered on Mercedes' cheapest models, which are expected to account for 60 percent of the North American volume in the coming model year.
Mercedes plans to offer the option on its full line of cars in 1985 if there is enough customer demand.
The option is a modified version of a system offered on some Mercedes models in Europe since December, 1980. The bag is stored under the steering wheel hub and a padded knee bolster under the instrument panel.
The bag is triggered by a collision at 12 mph or more. A sensor signals the bag to inflate. Full inflation occurs within one-thirtieth of a second, allowing the bag to cushion the driver's head and prevent contact with the steering wheel.
At the same time, the front seat passenger's seatbelt will be pulled tight, eliminating the normal slack, thereby greatly lessening the chance of striking the windshield or dashboard.
Walter Bodack, president of Mercedes' North American operation, said the systems have been popular in Europe because of a high rate of seatbelt use there.
The lack of seatbelt use in the United States has delayed the operation's introduction, he said.
A GM spokesman said the company is 'going to be watching Mercedes' air-bag program with great interest to see if its marketing experience confirms our own.'
GM was the only domestic company to offer air bags as a retail option although Ford Motor Co. installed them on some test cars.
GM spent 11 years and $160 million on the program it finally disbanded last year when National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration Director Raymond Peck rescinded a federal rule that would have required air bags to be phased in beginning with 1982 models.
The rescinding of the rule currently is being challenged in federal court.
At the time theprogram was halted, GM said the cost of air bags had risen to $1,100 per car if it could reach a volume of 100,000, which it doubted it could do.