Update: Ford issued a statement to Autoblog to clarify the results of the test and dispute the IIHS repair cost estimates. A quote from a Ford representative has been added to the story. See the full statement below the IIHS press release.
Of all the vehicles undergoing crash tests this year, few will be as closely watched as the new 2015 Ford F-150. That's not only because it remains the top-selling vehicle in America year after year, but also because it features an aluminum body instead of steel. While the F-150 performed well in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety test, one factor prompted the institute to undertake a second round of testing that uncovered a problem.
Like most full-size pickups, the F-150 is available in several cab styles: the regular two-door, the extended SuperCab and the four-door SuperCrew. The IIHS typically takes the most popular version of a particular model for testing, and in the Ford truck's case that meant the SuperCrew. The F-150 performed well in all the tests the IIHS put it through, including the small overlap test in which the vehicle is driven 40 miles per hour into a five-foot-tall barrier impacting the front left corner of the vehicle. Its overall performance in the tests earned the F-150 a Top Safety Pick rating, missing out on the higher Top Safety Pick + rating only because it doesn't have an automatic braking system.
But how do the other versions of Ford's best-seller hold up? Given that even less popular versions of the F-150 still sell more than many other vehicles on the market, the IIHS put an extended cab through the same battery of tests. It performed comparably except in one area: the small overlap test. In that case, the extended cab model's steering column was pushed eight inches into the cabin (dangerously close to the crash test dummy's chest), the dummy's head missed the airbag almost entirely and hit the instrument panel, and the dummy's legs would risk sustaining "moderate" injuries.
The reason for the disparity is that "Ford added structural elements to the crew cab's front frame to earn a good small overlap rating and a Top Safety Pick award but didn't do the same for the extended cab," according to the Institute's chief research officer David Zuby. "That shortchanges buyers who might pick the extended cab thinking it offers the same protection in this type of crash as the crew cab. It doesn't."
A Ford spokesman responded: "We addressed the IIHS small overlap front crash in our high-volume SuperCrew first, which accounts for 83 percent of 2015 F-150 retail sales. We are adding countermeasures in the SuperCab and the Regular Cab in the 2016 model year. Based on this IIHS data, both vehicles offer similar occupant protection levels." (For the full Ford statement, scroll down.) The small overlap test was first introduced by the IIHS in 2012.
As mentioned earlier the extended cab performed about the same as the crew cab in all other tests, including the moderate overlap test. The Institute says it will also subject "multiple variants" of other pickups to the same standards. In its testing, the IIHS also looked at repair costs for the aluminum bodywork on the new F-150 as compared to the previous steel-bodied model, and found that repair costs to be 26 percent higher for the new model. Ford disputes those figures based on independent data. You can delve into the results broken down in the IIHS statement below, or get the gist of it from the accompanying video clip.
but extended cab struggles in key small overlap test
ARLINGTON, Va. — The aluminum-body 2015 Ford F-150 crew cab swept the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's full slate of crashworthiness evaluations to qualify for a 2015 TOP SAFETY PICK award. The F-150 extended cab turned in a good performance in 4 of 5 assessments but stumbled in the small overlap front test. The results are the first ratings for large pickups in a group the Institute is evaluating this year.
The F-150 crew cab, which Ford calls the SuperCrew, earns good ratings for occupant protection in all five IIHS crashworthiness evaluations — small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint evaluations. The extended cab, or SuperCab, earns good ratings in the moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint evaluations but just a marginal rating for occupant protection in a small overlap front crash.
The Institute picked the F-150 to test first because it is not only the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. but also the first mass-market vehicle with an all-aluminum body.
"Consumers who wondered whether the aluminum-body F-150 would be as crashworthy as its steel-body predecessor can consider the question answered," says David Zuby, IIHS chief research officer.
Both the crew cab and extended cab F-150 pickups are rated basic for front crash prevention when equipped with Ford's optional forward collision warning system, which meets performance criteria set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The F-150 crew cab isn't eligible for TOP SAFETY PICK+ because it lacks an autonomous braking system.
Vehicles that earn a good or acceptable rating for small overlap protection and good ratings in the moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint evaluations qualify for TOP SAFETY PICK. To earn TOP SAFETY PICK+, vehicles also must have an available autobrake system that earns an advanced or superior rating.
Why two models were evaluated
For vehicles with multiple body styles, the Institute typically evaluates the one with the biggest sales. Initially, only the F-150 crew cab was on the schedule.
"After we tested the crew cab in the spring, questions were raised about the extended cab's ability to match the crew cab's good small overlap performance. We did some initial analysis and decided to test the extended cab, too," Zuby says.
While a departure from the Institute's usual practice, the F-150 merits a closer look.
"For starters, there's been lots of buzz around the release of the first aluminum-body pickup and how it would perform in crash tests," Zuby says. "What's more, even the lower-selling extended cab sales top those of many of the passenger vehicles we rate."
To provide consumers with more safety information, IIHS plans to rate multiple variants of the other pickups slated for tests this year.
Striking differences in small overlap test
In the small overlap front test, each F-150 traveled at 40 mph toward a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier. Twenty-five percent of the pickup's total width struck the barrier on the driver side, where a Hybrid III dummy representing an average-size man was positioned at the steering wheel. The test replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object such as a tree or a utility pole.
The two versions of the F-150 had markedly different outcomes.
"In a small overlap front crash like this, there's no question you'd rather be driving the crew cab than the extended cab F-150," Zuby says.
The crew cab's occupant compartment remained intact. The front-end structure crumpled in a way that spared the occupant compartment significant intrusion and preserved survival space for the driver.
Measures recorded on the test dummy indicated low risk of injuries to the dummy's head, chest, legs and feet. The front and side curtain airbags worked together to keep the dummy's head from contacting injury-producing stiff interior structures or outside objects. The dummy's head loaded the front airbag, which stayed in place until the dummy rebounded.
The extended cab is a different story. Intruding structure seriously compromised the driver's survival space, resulting in a poor structural rating. The toepan, parking brake and brake pedal were pushed back 10-13 inches toward the dummy, and the dashboard was jammed against its lower legs. Measures recorded on the dummy indicated there would be a moderate risk of injuries to the right thigh, lower left leg and left foot in a real-world crash of this severity.
The steering column was pushed back nearly 8 inches and came dangerously close to the dummy's chest. The dummy's head barely contacted the front airbag before sliding off to the left and hitting the instrument panel.
"Ford added structural elements to the crew cab's front frame to earn a good small overlap rating and a TOP SAFETY PICK award but didn't do the same for the extended cab," Zuby observes. "That shortchanges buyers who might pick the extended cab thinking it offers the same protection in this type of crash as the crew cab. It doesn't."
The Institute has briefed Ford on the results. In a statement, the manufacturer said, "Ford is evaluating possible changes to the extended cab for small offset performance."
Moderate overlap, side and roof tests The Institute assigned the crew cab and extended crew models good ratings for occupant protection in a moderate overlap front crash based on test data shared by Ford for both cab styles as part of the Institute's front crash-test verification process. The F-150 qualifies for the program because the earlier-generation models were rated good in this test.
In the side impact test for both models, measures taken from both the driver dummy and the passenger dummy seated in the rear seat indicated low risk of significant injuries in a real-world crash like this one. The side curtain airbag deployed from the roof to protect the dummies' heads from hitting any hard structures, including the intruding 3,300- pound SUV-like test barrier striking the driver side at 31 mph.
The crew cab's roof withstood a force of nearly 6 times the pickup's weight and the extended cab's roof withstood a force of 5.3 times the pickup's weight, an indication that the roofs will help protect occupants in rollover crashes.
The IIHS ratings apply to the 2015 SuperCrew F-150 and the SuperCab F-150 only. The Institute hasn't evaluated the 2015 regular cab.
Pricier repairs for aluminum F-150 in low-speed crashes
Since the F-150 is a unique vehicle with its aluminum body, the Institute also looked at repair costs for the 2015 model. Damage to aluminum body parts can be more complicated and pricier to repair than steel, analyses by the Highway Loss Data Institute have shown.
The Institute ran crash tests at 10 mph with the new F-150 crew cab and its 2014 steel-bodied predecessor. Engineers crashed the front left corner of the aluminum pickup into the right rear corner of the steel pickup at a 15 percent overlap, and then flipped the test and ran the steel pickup into the back of the aluminum one.
In both test scenarios, the aluminum F-150 had more extensive damage than the steel model. Total repair costs for the front and rear damage combined were 26 percent higher for the aluminum F-150. Extra time to repair the aluminum body accounted for the higher price to fix frontal damage, while higher parts costs pushed up the repair bill for the rear damage.
"From a simple bolt-on parts replacement to a more-involved removal and installation of entire body panels, fixing the aluminum F-150 is more expensive than repairing a steel-body F-150," Zuby says.
The IIHS fender-bender tests show the potential implications for out-of-pocket costs as well as insurance premiums when consumers opt for vehicles built with more aluminum.
Ford's Statement to Autoblog 7.30.15
The 2015 F-150 is safest F-150 ever. It is the only full-size, light-duty truck to earn NHTSA's highest 5-star rating for the driver and passenger for all crash test modes and cab configurations. In addition, the 2015 F-150 SuperCrew is the first large pickup in the industry to earn an IIHS Top Safety Pick in the current rating system.
We addressed the IIHS small overlap front crash in our high-volume SuperCrew first, which accounts for 83 percent of 2015 F-150 retail sales. We are adding countermeasures in the SuperCab and the Regular Cab in the 2016 model year. Based on this IIHS data, both vehicles offer similar occupant protection levels.
The F-150 program was well under way when this test mode was introduced in 2012. We are evaluating which specific changes we will make to the SuperCab and the Regular Cab. It is important that any changes do not compromise performance on other crash tests.
We do not agree with the repairability costs and findings by IIHS. Real-world repair costs for the 2015 F-150 to date are comparable to or less than other full-size pickups and an average $869 more affordable to repair than last year's F-150 – not the higher numbers released after crash stunts orchestrated by IIHS (as well as Edmunds). These costs are being tracked by Assured Performance, an independent body shop certification company that works with leading automakers. Insurance companies agree with the new F-150's repair costs – with both Allstate and State Farm saying insurance costs for the new F-150 will remain comparable with 2014 models. Consumer Reports analysis also shows that the aluminum parts on the F-150 cost about the same as steel parts on last year's truck and because the new F-150 is designed to make replacing components easier, in many cases labor charges may be lower.