With safety features being quite high on the list of features that manufacturers like to show off, we noticed a number of displays centered on occupant protection at this year's New York International Auto Show. Volvo, Hyundai, and Volkswagen gave us a chance to peek under the sheetmetal to see what automakers do to keep passengers safe during violent impacts.
Volvo's display was referred to as "The Steel Story", and was helpfully accompanied by a color coding. Grey and silver are standard steel and aluminum, respectively. Blue is high-strength steel, orange is very-high-strength steel, yellow is extra-high-strength steel, and red is ultra-high-strength steel. Apparently, the guys in charge of steel nomenclature in the industry are not extremely creative.
Note that the tough - and expensive - ultra-high-strength stuff is used in the most critical of areas - the side impact beams and in the B-pillar. Also interesting is the honeycomb of extra-high-strength steel that's used in the rear doors.
Here we see the hoop of extra-high-strength material that forms a protective hoop around the top of the passenger compartment, much like a roll cage. Substantial beams are also used along the top of the door sills for additional protection against intrusion from taller vehicles.
The front fenders make use of high-strength steel beams along their upper edges, which also contribute to improved crashworthiness when impacted by bumpers that are mounted higher than normal.
On display in Hyundai's booth was a dissected Azera that showed off not only the post-crash safety features, but also called attention to pro-active measures such as stability control and anti-lock brakes. Unfortunately, such dynamic systems are a bit difficult to show off on a static display, so all we got there is a series of lines on the floor showing: A) the intended path; B) the path without stability control; and C) the path with stability control.
Much more interesting than some painted stripes was the display vehicle itself, which had its left side removed to show the incredibly dense coverage of airbag protection in a modern vehicle. Also cut away was the driver's seat, which reveals the seat belt "pre-tensioners" that give a sharp tug on the belt when an impact is detected. By tightening the seat belts, the passengers can be held more firmly to the seats, reducing contact with the air bags. Anything that keeps our faces further away from rapidly-expanded pyrotechnics gets the Autoblog Seal of Approval.
Up front, the passenger is protected by three 'bags, with the curtain airbag descending from the ceiling to protect the occupant's head during a side collision, and a side airbag to keep one's hip and pelvis safe from the intruding bumper that's trying to smash them to bits (pelvis protection is high on our list).
The rear passengers in the Azera get similar level of protection from side impacts.
Volkswagen eschewed fancy cutaways, and simply displayed a new Jetta that had been used in an actual side-impact test. What we see here is that the car's robust B-pillar and sill structure have done an admirable job of absorbing the energy of the collision, minimizing intrusion into the passenger compartment and in the process maximizing the amount of room in which the side airbags can do their job. The doors and their contribution to this excellent performance can't be directly observed, but it would appear they've done their job well.
So, there you have it - a glimpse into the world of safety technology. The next time you walk away from a 35 MPH collision with only a few bumps and bruises, quietly thank the large number of men and women who have worked so hard to offer this level of protection.