Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Crash Test Tuesday: Subcompact Saftey—IIHS gives 'poor' rating to Honda, Toyota, and Smart

IIHS test: Fit vs. Accord
You might be familiar with the IIHS (Insurance Institute of Highway Safety) and its frontal-offset crash test. This offset crash is not a direct head-on collision, but rather, the two cars collide front corner to front corner, which the IIHS claims to be more of a real-world scenario than the federal government's direct head-on test. In some cases, cars that do well in the fed's head-on collision may not fare so well in the IIHS's offset test.

Yesterday (April 14), the IIHS released its findings regarding vehicle weight differences in crashes. It crashed a Honda Fit, Smart ForTwo, and a Toyota Yaris into a mid-sized sedan—frontal-offset style. Keep in mind the IIHS has giving all three of these subcompacts the institutes's "Good" rating in its general frontal-offset crash test.

The steel cage matches crashes were paired up like this:

  • - Mercedes C Class vs. Smart ForTwo
  • - Toyota Camry vs. Toyota Yaris
  • - Honda Accord vs. Honda Fit

  • The results in every case ended up in "Poor" ratings. Possibly the worst was the the ForTwo, the lightest of the bunch, which "went airborne and turned 450 degrees," according to the IIHS press release. However, none of the cars did well.

    So what does all this mean? I think everyone reading this knows basic physics: If you've got two entities that collide, and one of them is heavier, the lighter-weight unit is going to move more, or in this case, sustain more damage. Like a friend of mine says, "BCW: Big Car Wins." Perhaps the word you're thinking of is "duh." However, the IIHS makes an interesting correlation with regards to these tests. Something I didn't really see coming: Fuel economy.

    The IIHS states, "One reason people buy smaller cars is to conserve fuel," and since gas prices spiked last year smaller, more fuel-efficient cars have become an option to buyers. Plus, the organization states that with the upcoming hike in federal fuel economy requirements, there is a conflict.

    "...smaller vehicles use less fuel, but do a relatively poor job of protecting people in crashes, so fuel conservation policies have tended to conflict with motor vehicle safety policies."

    OK, fair enough. I can see that.

    The IIHS goes on to say that with the new fuel economy regulations that are set to go into effect, it will mean automakers must raise the overall fuel economy of nearly their entire lineup. This will mean manufacturers will no longer simply be able to sell one or two high-mileage subcompacts to boost their lineups' overall mileage. It will force automakers to make all of their vehicles more fuel efficient.

    In a nutshell, the IIHS is saying that when the new fuel economy mandates hit and larger, safer cars get better mileage, there will be less need for people to purchase small cars because mid-sized cars will get the same mileage. Interesting perspective.

    Does the impending fuel economy hike mean another ice age for small cars? Or, will smaller cars become even more popular regardless of the safety standards?

    IIHS news release: New crash tests demonstrate the influence of vehicle size and weight on safety in crashes; results are relevant to fuel economy policies


    Unknown said...

    pshaw, i think we all remember what small cars can do, just gotta find the right spot.

    ank said...

    Agreed man. its lame. Check out Smart USA's response.


    Andy Lilienthal said...

    Nice link, ank (you, too Craig!).

    It's kind of funny, actually. The rest of the world drives small cars and has for a lot longer than the U.S., but you don't see them being called out as "unsafe." Although you can't argue with physics, let's face it: most people realize that a small car isn't going to do as well when it's crashed into a bigger vehicle.

    Unknown said...

    well in those places, they don't really have the big car option, so if they're all little there's not much to worry about, which is shy vespas are a viable option

    D2M said...

    Hm... I'm not looking at the Fit because it's gas efficient. (Though I like that, don't get me wrong.) I'm looking at it because it's in my price range. Will those more fuel efficient giants ALSO be in my price range? I doubt it.

    Also, why did the IIHS do this test? I read the article ank linked to, and it said that the chances of this type of accident are 1%. And that the SFT meets or exceeds all other safety tests thrown at it.

    It seems odd to me that they're testing this way. It's almost like they're trying to scare people away from these types of cars. Why?