Apr 27

IIHS says 2011 Chevrolet Volt and Nissan LEAF are practically as safe as larger cars

 

If an ever-increasing list of accolades for the Chevrolet Volt’s design, function, and engineering haven’t been enough, the car has achieved yet another honorary nod of recognition, this time in the area of safety.

Yesterday, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) announced results from its first-ever U.S. crash evaluations of plug-in electric cars, and both the Volt and Nissan LEAF earned the top rating of “good” for front, side, rear, and rollover crash protection.

As a result of their ranking, the IIHS bestowed on the Volt and LEAF its TOP SAFETY PICK award for state-of-the-art crash protection.


This perfectly good Chevrolet Volt is about to be sacrificed frontally into a solid wall in the name of safety research.

It turns out there is a secondary benefit to the extra heft from their lithium-ion battery packs, as both “small” cars were shown to have crash resistance approaching a larger car, and scored well within standards for their size.

“The LEAF and Volt’s extra mass gives them a safety advantage over other small cars,” said Joe Nolan, the Institute’s chief administrative officer. “These electric models are a win-win for fuel economy and safety.”

The LEAF weighs about 3,370 pounds which exceeds Nissan’s approximately 3,200-pound midsize Altima. The Volt weighs about 3,760 pounds and likewise, it exceeds Chevrolet’s approximately 3,580-pound, large-class Impala.


The insurance industry’s advocacy and research arm wants to know what it is insuring. So, out-doing the government, it runs only the driver’s half of the car into a barrier at 5 mph more speed to really focus that kinetic energy into the dummy.

“The way an electric or hybrid model earns top crash test ratings is the same way any other car does,” Nolan said, “Its structure must manage crash damage so the occupant compartment stays intact and the safety belts and airbags keep people from hitting hard surfaces in and out of the vehicle.”

This year, General Motors’ tally of winners of the TOP SAFETY PICK award now totals 12 models and Nissan has three. Including the Chevrolet and Nissan electric cars and seven hybrids, a total of 80 cars have won in 2011.


The dummy struck the airbag with its head and the lower dash with its knees (note grease paint smudges from impact).

“What powers the wheels is different, but the level of safety for the Volt and LEAF is as high as any of our other top crash test performers,” Nolan said.

We called IIHS spokesman, Russ Rader, yesterday to see if there was anything he could add, and there was. He said the IIHS tests are done over and above federal crash tests and present a tougher standard.

“Our tests are designed to push the envelope beyond what the government is requiring,” Rader said, “For example, the frontal offset tests that the Institute does is more challenging for the structure of the vehicle than the government’s test.”


Another sacrificial Volt. This one will be for the side impact test.

How so?

“Our frontal test is a 40 mph offset test that concentrates the energy of the crash on the driver’s side,” Rader said, “The government’s 35 mph frontal test is a full-width test so it’s less challenging for the structure of the vehicle.”

He said the side impact tests are tougher too.


This smash equals the kinetic energy of an SUV or pickup truck.

“The side impact test that we do simulates a SUV or pickup truck striking the car from the side,” Rader said, “The government just updated their procedures with the new test. The first test they do for side impact protection uses a barrier that represents another car hitting the test vehicle on the side, so it’s not representing the mix of vehicles that are out in the real world.”

He added that the IIHS has no plans to test the Prius Plug-in Hybrid or other electric cars until they are on the open market.

For now, the Volt and LEAF stand in stark contrast to other electric cars it has informally tested. Although the GEM e2 and Wheego Whip are not required to undergo federal crash testing, the IIHS proactively subjected them to side barrier tests “for research purposes only.”


This is the dummy inside the side-swiped car post impact. Note grease paint stains to show where the body struck the inside of the car.

This research subsequently caused the IIHS to politely say the evolved golf carts were tantamount to death traps.

“Crash test dummies in the GEM and Wheego recorded data suggesting severe or fatal injuries to real drivers,” said the IIHS. “The GEM and Whip belong to a class of golf cart-like vehicles that aren’t required to meet the same federal safety standards as passenger vehicles. Although growing in popularity, these tiny electrics aren’t designed to mix with regular traffic.”

But mix with traffic they nevertheless do.


An unfortunately destroyed Volt. The positive aspect is the safety structure did its job.

And while we’re on the topic, a couple days ago, Polaris Industries, Inc. announced that in six weeks it will close a deal to purchase Global Electric Motorcars LLC (GEM). Presently it is a wholly owned Fargo, N.D. based subsidiary of Chrysler Group LLC.

“GEM is the recognized leader within the low-speed vehicle market, with a well-respected brand and approximately $30 million in sales during the 2010 calendar year,” Polaris said, “Since the company was established in 1998, they have placed over 45,000 electric-powered vehicles on the road worldwide.”

A lot of these sales were to corporate and government fleets, as well as private citizens in areas where they can be legally driven.

The IIHS essentially said these cars do not hold a candle to the Volt and LEAF. The Chevrolet and Nissan were engineered at great expense to pioneer mainstream electric transportation, and it seems clear their manufacturers hit a home run first time up to bat.

Nolan warned drivers concerned about safety to steer clear of what the IIHS considers unsafe vehicles, while recommending the Nissan and Chevrolet.

“Eco-minded drivers keen on switching to electric would do well to buy a LEAF or Volt for highway driving instead of a low-speed vehicle if they’re at all concerned about being protected in a crash,” Nolan said.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 27th, 2011 at 5:55 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

COMMENTS: 41


  1. 1
    Xiaowei1

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (6:17 am)

    Every time i see a Volt being test I think – great, safty first, but damn that was one less car which could have been manufactured for the masses… :-(


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    nasaman

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (6:19 am)

    Bravo! …this exceptionally timely article summarizes the complete story of a subject critically important to the wide public acceptance of the two first EVs offered by major manufacturers in the US! In fact, the Volt development team saw crash safety as SO critical they made an important design change to the Volt’s structure (and consequently, to its battery) early in the design effort.

    A steel strut was added across the width of the car at its mid-section to reduce the damage done in collisions popularly known as “T-bone” crashes. This required the battery to be redesigned with an open slot roughly half way down its length, which no doubt the battery packaging people were not very happy about at first. Odd as this slot looks, the important thing is that it works!


  3. 3
    nasaman

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (6:43 am)

    Another key matter, not infrequently the subject of some controversy here at gm-volt.com*, is that an EV’s substantial added mass for the battery can actually make it safer in crashes. The lead article quotes IIHS, “The LEAF and Volt’s extra mass gives them a safety advantage over other small cars,” said Joe Nolan, the Institute’s chief administrative officer. “These electric models are a win-win for (both) fuel economy and safety.”

    Nolan continues, “the LEAF weighs about 3,370 pounds which exceeds Nissan’s approximately 3,200-pound midsize Altima. The Volt weighs about 3,760 pounds and likewise, it exceeds Chevrolet’s approximately 3,580-pound, large-class Impala.”

    *Several here have argued in the past that increased vehicle mass would NOT improve its safety —WRONG!


  4. 4
    Mark Z

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (7:04 am)

    One of the most important articles on GM-Volt ever posted. This is where detail is appreciated and the results of the tests are amazing. We pray for safe traveling mercies. It’s nice to know that part of that safety is the quality of the vehicle one drives. Staying alert and viewing around the pillar for hidden objects adds to the safety of others. May everyone drive their Volt in such a way to avoid the mishaps that are pictured above.


  5. 5
    Dan Petit

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (7:11 am)

    Accident safety is not the only thing I am happy about reading here.

    But also, electrical reliability and safety for electrical energy components which GM designs, having very predictable and consistently reliable lifespans, are so very well designed to remain wear and fault-isolated from the other natural wear characteristics of other components.

    These same unmatched GM design standards for high energy components that we have worked *around* out here for the last three decades
    (beginning long ago with the 120 volt alternator)
    definitely carries forward for the highest confidence levels for Volt from an independent servicing perspective.


  6. 6
    kdawg

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (8:41 am)

    Sad to see a $40,000 Volt smashed, but that dummy probably cost 3X that.


  7. 7
    kdawg

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (8:48 am)

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    DonC

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (8:59 am)

    I was certain that the Volt would pass with flying colors but wasn’t as sure about the Leaf. Glad to know that both came through with five stars. Nice to see an authoritative source saying that EVs are a win-win on fuel economy and safety.

    The Volt has three and perhaps four advantages over the Leaf. First it’s heavier. Rather than saying that the Volt weighs more than an Impala I think of the Volt as weighing more than a Mercedes E class sedan. You can’t say that about the Leaf. Second is that almost 80% of the steel in the Volt is high strength steel which protects the passenger compartment better (don’t know about the Leaf). Third is that the Volt has two more airbags than the Leaf — the knee airbags for the driver and front passenger. These ensure the occupant doesn’t slide forward and under the dash during a crash. Fourth and finally the battery housing in the Volt protects the passenger compartment in a way that the Leaf battery pack doesn’t. Running into a Volt from the front or the side is a big like running into the end of an I-beam.

    This is explained at some length in this thread in the engineering forum by WopOnTour: http://gm-volt.com/forum/showthread.php?4939-Volt-Safety-Systems&highlight=safety Make sure you check out the pictures of the 40 mile frontal crash — the Volt passenger compartment is unscathed. Very impressive.


  9. 9
    N Riley

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (10:33 am)

    Another home run, Jeff. Great report. Interesting video, also. Keep up the good work. And THANKS!!


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    Jackson

     

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (11:13 am)

    If the IIHS is wondering what to do with the wrecked cars, I know a pseudo-pirate in broke-azz California who would take the batteries off their hands.

    They can probably find him at H( . y . )ters. :-P

    For those sickened by watching Volts get smashed, here’s some fast fast fast relief:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wg45haoZDg

    (The Prius is also highly rated, possibly due to it’s additional battery weight).


  11. 11
    Noel Park

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (11:36 am)

    Good news. Thanks. Nice comments. +1 to each and every one.


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    Steverino

     

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (11:52 am)

    Nice to see the additional interview quotes, Jeff!


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    Apr 27th, 2011 (12:02 pm)

    The automotive eng: has now a days so advanced that i think most cars will be getting to 5 star ( even imiev ) . This news is a real confidence booster for the people who consider electric cars.

    I have a question other than this topic:

    eassist, IMA both are mild hybrid systems as per wiki. Why with mild hybrid system , Honda is able to get 44 city for civic where Malibu eassist gets only 26in city. ( honda has 44/44 for civic hybrid malibu has 26/38 for eco model ). IMA is also a cost effective model according to Honda. Or other words why GM fails to make the city same as highway with eassist.


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    Apr 27th, 2011 (12:20 pm)

    OT, but I keep seing more buzz about these guys. May be interesting to some of you. $1 cheaper per gallon, burns cleaner, 90% domestic.
    ————–
    Alliance AutoGas offers a one-stop shop to get your fleet up-and-running on clean, economical propane AutoGas
    http://www.allianceautogas.com/

    Here’s the price comparison. With gas over $4/gal the differential is pretty high now.
    http://www.allianceautogas.com/why-autogas/save-money/


  15. 15
    pjkPA

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (12:26 pm)

    What this article doesn’t mention is that the VOLT wiegh approx 400lbs more than the Leaf…
    That means it is not to be compared. You are only supposed to compare cars within 150lbs of each other. In other words if you slammed a Volt and a Leaf into each other… the Volt would slow up and keep going in the same direction… while the Leaf would slow up … stop and then go in the opposite direction of travel in the same amount of time. The Volt has a advantage and is safer.


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    CorvetteGuy

     

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (12:35 pm)

    With the main battery pack sitting low in the center of the Volt, I’m wondering what it would take to roll one over. That would be a major accident to be sure.


  17. 17
    kdawg

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (12:36 pm)

    unni: eassist, IMA both are mild hybrid systems as per wiki. Why with mild hybrid system , Honda is able to get 44 city for civic where Malibu eassist gets only 26in city. ( honda has 44/44 for civic hybrid malibu has 26/38 for eco model ). IMA is also a cost effective model according to Honda. Or other words why GM fails to make the city same as highway with eassist.

    The Malibu is bigger, weighs 800lbs more, and has 50 more HP.


  18. 18
    LauraM

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (12:37 pm)

    Great article. I expected the Volt to get a top rating, but it’s great having confirmation. And I learned a lot about safety features that I probably should know more about…


  19. 19
    LauraM

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (12:55 pm)

    Off topic, sort of. I went to the New York auto show (I’ll try to figure out how to post pictures later), but I just wanted to say–GM put much more emphasis on the Volt than Nissan did with the Leaf. Nissan simply put the Leaf on a pedestal, along with the “world car of the year trophy.” And left it at that. They also displayed the electric race concept car at the entrance of their pavilion. It was much better looking than the LEAF (which isn’t hard), but..

    GM on the other hand–they had a separate “North” pavilion, with a Volt on the hallway to their main exhibit. Along with a model showing how it works. They had four volts on display as part of the main exhibit. Two that you could go into. One with a mock charging setup for your garage. One with a parking space that was “reserved for electric cars only.” along with a game where you can do a “drive” on five different famous routes to see how long your EV range would last. (It varied from 35 miles going from Anchorage to Seward, to 44 on route 66.) They also had a “Volt” kinect joyrider game for people to play. (Apparently, it’s an app you can download if you have the game.)

    They also had a ride around in an electric car feature. So I finally got to ride around in a Volt! As others have said, it was very smooth, and felt very luxurious. It reminded me of my cousin’s BMW. I wanted to try the Leaf to compare, but I was running late, and each line involved a twenty minute wait so…


  20. 20
    Jeff Cobb

     

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (12:56 pm)

    N Riley,

    Thank you.


  21. 21
    Jeff Cobb

     

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (12:58 pm)

    Steverino,

    Thanks. I’ve talked to Russ before on other topics.


  22. 22
    nasaman

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (1:27 pm)

    LauraM: “…I finally got to ride around in a Volt! As others have said, it was very smooth, and felt very luxurious. It reminded me of my cousin’s BMW.”

    It’s great to have a woman’s perspective —we don’t get very many! You could also call up a few Chevy dealers to DRIVE one —many NY/NJ dealers have a “permanent” demo Volt by now. During my 2nd Volt test drive I deliberately (with the GM host’s OK) floored it in Sport Mode, then locked the brakes just prior to a sharp turn. It handled as well, if not better, than any BMW I’ve ever driven. BTW, I’ve also driven a Leaf and also found it smooth & quiet but certainly not (to me) “luxurious” —and the Leaf’s handling was predictable but otherwise “ho-hum” by comparison.

    PS: Laura, when you post pics, don’t forget to include one of yourself (I’m sure every guy here agrees)!


  23. 23
    Jeff Cobb

     

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (1:36 pm)

    LauraM:
    Great article. I expected the Volt to get a top rating, but it’s great having confirmation. And I learned a lot about safety features that I probably should know more about…

    Thanks Laura. I’m learning new things all the time too.


  24. 24
    unni

     

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (2:55 pm)

    kdawg: The Malibu is bigger, weighs 800lbs more, and has 50 more HP.

    I am not saying to not getting 44/44 , i am saying its not even getting 35/38 instead of 26/38, 26 city comes for normal Malibu without eassist. Technically i think its a big opportunity for GM to improve by software upgrade or so if the system is able to electric assist at any time to maximize efficiency ( low cost, real worth in getting a high city and combined rating ).


  25. 25
    kdawg

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (3:09 pm)

    unni: I am not saying to not getting 44/44 , i am saying its not even getting 35/38 instead of 26/38, 26 city comes for normal Malibu without eassist. Technically i think its a big opportunity for GM to improve by software upgrade or so if the system is able to electric assist at any time to maximize efficiency ( low cost, real worth in getting a high city and combined rating ).

    The E-assist in the Buick LaCrosse takes it from 19/30 to 27/37. That’s an increase of 42% / 23% respectively.

    The Honda Civic goes from 28/39 to 44/44, or 57% / 12.8% respectively.

    These improvements seem somewhat similiar to me.


  26. 26
    Roy H

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (4:23 pm)

    From the headline “practically as safe” is a back-handed compliment, suggesting that ALL ICE cars are at least a little safer. The report states that the Volt and LEAF are as safe as the BEST ICE cars. Quite different!


  27. 27
    CaptJackSparrow

     

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (4:51 pm)

    @unni & @kdawg….

    Isn’t the Buick LaCrosse Hybrid a different type/class of car? The Civic is more a compact?
    That would be like comparing the Civic to the Accord?

    I would think the Buick LaCrosse would compare closer to a Camry Hybrid or a Ford Fusion Hybrid……maybe?

    I dunno, I can never remember what class.size/whatever each car belongs to. :-)


  28. 28
    RDO CA

     

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (6:35 pm)

    This is the best crash test site I have found but the Volt has not yet been added. They use both the Gov. info and the ins info along with weight and whether the car has stability and side air bags.
    They give each car a number and the lower the better.

    http://www.informedforlife.org/


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    CorvetteGuy

     

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (7:40 pm)

    Customers should be allowed to test the VOLT’s safety systems for themselves:

    v1small.jpg

    v2small.jpg


  30. 30
    Rashiid Amul

     

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (7:45 pm)

    From the article
    And while we’re on the topic, a couple days ago, Polaris Industries, Inc. announced that in six weeks it will close a deal to purchase Global Electric Motorcars LLC (GEM)

    I’m not surprised. Polaris is making inroads into the small EV machines with 2010 Polaris RANGER EV Electric UTV. I would expect to see more of this.

    Slow day today? I’m only number 30? :(


  31. 31
    nasaman

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (7:56 pm)

    Rashiid Amul: Slow day today? I’m only number 30?

    I guess safety is a boring subject, Rashiid. After all, it’s really simply a ‘black and white’ situation (i.e., merely a matter of life and death) on our streets & highways, which is…
    …..where most people face a higher risk of injury & death than at any other time!

    /Sarcasm off


  32. 32
    Rashiid Amul

     

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (8:07 pm)

    nasaman,

    +1 Nasaman. LOL


  33. 33
    Eco_Turbo

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (8:35 pm)

    kdawg,

    They’re still gas hogs, just like the Ford Fusion hybrid, compared to Volt, on the daily commute.


  34. 34
    MichaelH

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (8:41 pm)

    LauraM: (I’ll try to figure out how to post pictures later)

    Laura, I sent you a PM with a reference to the thread where I listed picture posting instructions. Also included offer to help.

    MichaelH


  35. 35
    pjkPA

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (9:56 pm)

    This article correctly identifies weight as a safety factor. Unlike the NHTSA which does not. They crash vehicles into a fixed barrier. This is the same as crashing two of the same cars into each other. So a 2500lb car is crashed into a 2500 lb car. In NHTSA tests, some 3000lb vehicles are incorrectly rated as safe as some 4000lb vehicles because of the NHTSA flawed way of testing. Crashing any 4,000 lb vehicle into any 3,000 lb will reveal the true results. They do have a disclaimer hidden somewhere which states that you should only compare results to a vehicle within 150lbs of the same weight… nobody I know does this. ie: If they see 5 stars for a Honda CIVIC they think it’s the same as 5 stars for a Buick Lucerne… which is totally wrong… and gives a false sense of security to small car owners. The fact is … there are twice as many deaths in small vehicles compared to large ones. It’s good to see this article verify wieght as a safety factor.


  36. 36
    pjkPA

     

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (10:04 pm)

    What is the side impace weight and how fast was it going?
    Do they crash the same weight into all cars?
    Why not crash the same weight into front , side and rear.. make the test so that you can compare all vehicles no matter what they weigh?


  37. 37
    Jeff Cobb

     

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (11:00 pm)

    pjkPA: What is the side impace weight and how fast was it going? Do they crash the same weight into all cars? Why not crash the same weight into front , side and rear.. make the test so that you can compare all vehicles no matter what they weigh?

    I don’t know but I forwarded your questions to the IIHS rep.

    He commented on your earlier comment:

    The person writing in is correct that the Volt has a safety advantage because it’s the heavyweight between the two. The Volt weighs about as much as some large cars, even though it’s the same size dimensionally as a Honda Civic. Mass provides a crucial benefit in how crashes between two vehicles turn out.

    The 400 lb. weight difference would drive the Leaf backward in a head-on crash between the two. That would make the crash worse for the people in the Leaf.

    But practically we have to present the information in a way that’s digestible for the public without a lot of caveats and details that can’t be conveyed in most news stories.

    In our size classes, we try not to put vehicles in the same category if their weight differences are more than 500 lbs. At least initially, electric cars will create some challenges with our current size categories because of the weight of the batteries.

    The more important point from our perspective was to make it clear that both the Volt and Leaf have advantages over regular small cars, which weight considerably less than these electrics.


  38. 38
    Jeff Cobb

     

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    Apr 27th, 2011 (11:03 pm)

    pjkPA: What is the side impact weight and how fast was it going? Do they crash the same weight into all cars?

    Like I said, I’ll try to get specifics from the IIHS. The weight is supposed to represent the kinetic energy of a pickup truck or SUV. Don’t know the actual weight or speed, but the video shows it at a moderate speed. Assuming its playback is accurate, it looks like maybe 25-35 mph. If I find out, I’ll let you know here.


  39. 39
    Jeff Cobb

     

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    Apr 28th, 2011 (12:58 pm)

    pjkPA: What is the side impace weight and how fast was it going? Do they crash the same weight into all cars? Why not crash the same weight into front , side and rear.. make the test so that you can compare all vehicles no matter what they weigh?

    IIHS answer:

    The side impact test uses a deformable barrier representing an SUV or pickup moving at 31 mph. The configuration of the side impact test is always the same for all vehicles tested.

    The tests don’t allow comparison across weight classes because that’s how it is in the real world. In other words, a small car is always at a disadvantage in crashes because of its size – -it doesn’t have the same crush space as bigger vehicles, and because of its weight – mass affords advantages in crashes with other vehicles.


  40. 40
    Jeff Cobb

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    Apr 28th, 2011 (1:00 pm)

    Roy H: From the headline “practically as safe” is a back-handed compliment, suggesting that ALL ICE cars are at least a little safer. The report states that the Volt and LEAF are as safe as the BEST ICE cars. Quite different!

    IIHS answer whether the headline needed to be fixed:

    “I think the headline is exactly right.” – Russ Rader


  41. 41
    Marie

     

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    May 2nd, 2011 (3:51 pm)

    Wow. That’s some impressive news. I was just reading about the Volt over on the Johnny Londoff Chevrolet blog and was already impressed by the fuel efficiency. I read you can get up to 1,000 miles between fill-ups. But it’s good to know it’s also extremely safe. Looks like a win-win car.