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Adding some muscle to NHTSA’s safety messaging

Try this idea on for size. You’re a safety organization, trying to convey to the general public the importance of vehicular safety systems: air bags, seat belts, disc brakes, the works.

How to grab and hold people’s attention about such less-than-sexy – if not outright mundane – topics?

With a muscle car of course!

Indeed, if you’ve visited a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) display booth at any point in the last few years, you’ve probably seen the agency’s “SaferCar.gov” vehicle – a tricked out 1973 Chevrolet Impala – gleaming in all its souped-up glory for all eyes to see.

Not what you expect from government officials, eh?

Officially, SaferCar.gov is a “marketing tool” for the Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) ostensibly aimed at speeding up reporting by consumers of any and all vehicle safety defects.

Why use a 1973 Impala for this task you ask? Two reasons: first, because it’s one of the earliest General Motors-built cars to feature airbags and, second, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) already owned it.

Once used as a safety testing vehicle by ODI, it had been sitting unused and gathering dust for over a decade in a government parking garage.

The good folks over at ODI told me that the first step to turning this iconic muscle car into a one-of-a-kind “marketing tool” began with a unique paint scheme that fades from a metallic silver to black.

Over the paint went a large replaceable graphic label that mirrors the logo used on the SaferCar.gov web site. 

The next exterior changes involved re-chromed bumpers with aluminum trim and light lenses polished to a high degree, followed by a new engine featuring chrome components, along with super-spectacular wheels and tires.

Those “visual” improvements are meant to catch the attention of consumers in the vicinity of the vehicle, noted ODI, drawing them in for a closer look. 

What they’ll find upon closer inspection of the agency’s “re-tooled” Impala are a range of safety technology upgrades, which include: new seats with head rests; disc brakes; three-point seat belts; a new suspension; electronic ignition; and child seat anchor points, to demonstrate the proper installation of child seats at trade shows.

A customized audio/video system and display table accompanies the vehicle – an audio/video system that boasts a wide screen monitor mounted to the underside of the trunk lid, connected to a series of speakers located throughout the Impala. 

The display table mounted in the trunk is used to display handouts and other literature to be given to consumers, ODI noted.

Tell you one thing: once you see NHTSA’s “SaferCar.gov” muscle car, you are unlikely to forget it.

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