• Apr 15, 2006

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.



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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 25 Comments
      Lynn
      • 8 Years Ago
      Bleh, if they wouldn't build cars out of crappy plastic they wouldn't need all the "safety" features. I have a 40-year-old Dodge that has NO airbags, NO "crumple zones" and only a lap belt, but I bet I could take out a new minivan and leave only a scratch or two on my Dodge! Oh yeah, and if people wouldn't drive like @$$holes they wouldn't have to worry about accidents anyway.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Another nice thing about Volvo (at least in their pre-Ford days, haven't seen anything on it since) -- they wouldn't charge anyone to use any of their safety-related patents.
      • 8 Years Ago
      CH,

      Thanks for the info. You seem pretty knowledgeable about this. My main question here is if Volvo has all this information and advanced technology, why Ford/Volvo doesn't release the data, and why the auto industry doesn't band together to research safety. Auto industry cooperation is at a high right now, so safety would seem to be a logical area for cooperation.

      In any case, there is a limit to the gains that can be made with passive safety (at least within reasonable costs). There are only so many more airbags and crumple zones that can be added. Rollover protection seems to be the next and perhaps last major frontier from a passive standpoint. I think there will be more emphasis on active safety features such as stability control, lane-change warning systems (I saw an ad for a Citroen [I think] when I was in Europe that advertised this feature), and distance monitors. Perhaps testing efforts should be refocused here?
      • 8 Years Ago
      Honda safety features rock. I've been in two bad crashes in Honda/Acura products and walked away with no injuries both times. One was at 30mph and the other was at 65mph.
      • 8 Years Ago
      That's because other companies seem to be putting out better products than others including Volvo. If I'm not mistaken, VW AG has at least 5 or 6 cars that have the IIHS Silver awards. Volvo zero, however I think the Ford 500 recvd a Gold. Those cards didn't get Gold because of rear collision could have been better. I'm told they rolled out improved restraints this year. This safety adds weight. My brother's VW Passat was hit by a Camry. She drove away but the Camry did not. The Camry occupents were driven away (ER). 10 years ago, this kind of accident, someone would have been killed. But all in all, cars are getting safer.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Even if manufacturers could offer death traps, I doubt that they would. Consumers are very safety focused now. Note that VW, Hyundai, Honda, BMW, and the others with Silver and Gold awards exceed government standards. IOW, they don't have to build in this much safety.
      • 8 Years Ago
      I'm going to pretend I didn't just read #5 and #6. You'll eat your words when you or someone you love is involved in a serious accident.

      It all comes down to physics. The tests Volvo performs on their own are superior to tests performed by both the government and many of the insurance organizations. The US government tests are lower speed, and don't test for things like SUV vs. small car. The insurance institutes are slightly better, but only marginally. This report fails to mention the huge advancements Honda has made in safety. For instance their crash compatability system that makes up for the differences in bumper heights between trucks and cars to make the car safety systems more effective in a crash. Also, the massive shift by the auto industry to protect pedestrians that are hit by cars. Ford in Europe is experimenting with external airbags, and new Hondas have a bigger gap between the engine and the hood to better protect the head of a pedestrian that is struck by the car.
      Eric
      • 8 Years Ago
      I wanted to make a comment on the chatter about not buying safe vehicles and the trashing of Volvo. For anyone with half a brain in them, if you honestly think buying a safe vehicle is a waste of time, I am glad I am not a member of your family. As to Volvo's testing, it should be noted that Volvo has their own crash team which is dispatched (in addition to the local police) when an accident of a given nature occurs. They actually take measurement and record data on the crash which is used to make their cars safer. A great example is the heartbeat monitor which will be incorporated into their newer vehicles soon (So you know if you accidently forgot a pet or baby in the vehicle.) The United States has a long way to go before it in my opinion can compete with safety requirments which have been incorporated on vehicles like Volvo and Saab for years. Also, think about this, if you don't want to buy a safer vehicle, then tell your insurance company to stop raising my rates for health insurance and auto insurance. Just because you want to be foolish and reckless so you can go faster and get to that traffic light before I do, doesn't mean I should have to pay for the damage you cause to yourself and others. I am sure #5 drive big SUV's and have no problem paying $3.50/gal of gas and not stopping for people in crosswalks. But will complain that they can't drive less safer vehicles.
      Jack
      • 8 Years Ago
      And another thing I've been working with cars all my life and i'm not a young guy. But I know that Volvo is probably one of the safest cas on the market today. hey have been and quit frankly they may always e in my book..I've seen many many crashes. and its the standerd at the time that makes other cars do well on the safty test. the the fact the car is safe. When people do ask me what kind of car is a safe one. I tell them I think Volvo is the safest new car you can buy thats afordable that is. I dont think it would stand a change against a 77 chevy but I think it will do very well against any car they make today.
      • 8 Years Ago
      #12, but consider the results of the S40 that was recently tested. It was re-designed in 2005, but got only an "acceptable" rating in the side-impact crash because of marginal torso protection and an "acceptable" structure/safety cage. The latter in particular is somewhat telling. This is not to say that the Volvo is a bad car or performs poorly (it actually does very well), but it seems that other manufacturers may be doing as well or better. Perhaps they are designing the cars to the tests, but to discern any difference in Volvos, we'd need to know what they do that the IIHS doesn't.
      ibidfree.com
      • 8 Years Ago
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