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How electric cars are creating new challenges in car safety

Frankly, we have some of the coolest jobs. But the engineers at the Auto Safety Lab may be better than us. How much stress can he bear if he can crash his truck into the wall once a day?

For a fee, you can spray paint your Buick with the name of your stressor and send it flying to thousands of pounds of steel with the push of a button. They will all become millionaires.

But their work is serious and has important consequences that make us all safer. So they are getting ready.

How is car safety going to be complicated? Because of weight and the laws of physics.

electric cars are pretty heavy

Raul Arbelaez, vice president of the Vehicle Research Center at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), explains that as electric vehicles become more common, the weight of batteries “is driving up the weight of vehicles.”

Incidentally, IIHS is a private industry motor vehicle safety testing laboratory. It is funded by a consortium of insurance companies and has a reputation for performing some of the toughest safety tests in the automotive industry.

According to Arbelaez, the heaviest vehicle IIHS has tested so far is the 2019 Audi e-tron, a larger electric SUV. The vehicle tested was “less than 6,000 pounds”. However, he said, “some of these electric cars touted as coming in the next few years” are “as tall as 9,500 pounds” and weigh significantly.

Arbelaez didn’t name it, but we’re almost certainly talking about the GMC Hummer EV. That battery, GM GM,
+0.89%
It weighs 2,923 pounds, said to be heavier than the Mazda Miata. It’s just the battery.

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crash machine can handle it

IIHS engineers had to make sure the crash machine (yes, they call it the crash machine) could handle it.

Crash test engineers do not use the car’s own engine to increase test speed. In order to control the crash situation as much as possible and get repeatable results, each car is connected to a cable and towed to test speed (approximately 40 miles per hour in the lab’s fastest test).

Engineers needed to ensure that the 9,500-pound vehicle could reach equipment at speeds up to 40 mph over the allotted 600 feet before hitting the test barrier.

To get there, they took what Arbelaez called “some old junkers” and threw steel plates to weigh them up to “about 9,500 pounds” before rocketing them against the wall. and loaded with heavy concrete barriers.

The crash machine held up just fine. fly the hummer

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But automotive safety faces new challenges

It’s comforting to know that EVs face the same challenges as gasoline vehicles. But the fact that the IIHS fears that new instruments will need to be built to accommodate them shows something important.

At the rate the automotive industry is modernizing towards EVs, almost all of us will one day drive an EV. But there will inevitably be a period of overlap when some cars on the road are electric and others are petrol-powered.

Weight matters in an accident. If in doubt, watch the IIHS video of a large vehicle crashing into a small vehicle. These tests look radically different from tests where the car crashes into a barrier. Large vehicles stay in the lane, and small vehicles often roll out of the lane.

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Crash tests can only estimate the likelihood of injury to someone inside the tested vehicle. They cannot predict other car injuries. And we are all looking to share the road with other vehicles that dramatically outnumber ours.

Safety engineering is about to get more complex.

This story originally flowed KBB.com.