Electric cars allay safety concerns

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 March, 2011, 12:00am

Safety needn't be compromised in the design of electric cars, according to European crash testers. The Mitsubishi i-MiEV won a four-star rating in the Euro New Car Assessment Programme (NCAP) crash tests, alongside the Citro?n C-Zero and Peugeot iOn, that have the same design and safety equipment.

The Mitsubishi plug-in's rating 'shows that a future five-star accolade for electric vehicles is not unthinkable', says Euro NCAP's secretary general Michiel van Ratingen. 'Whether produced by established car manufacturers or by new players on the market, consumers should expect to get electric vehicles that meet the same safety standards as conventional vehicles.'

The i-MiEV's rating should delight the police and other early adopters of the HK$395,000 vehicle in Hong Kong, as the Brussels-based Euro NCAP says it tests the plug-ins with live batteries, and performs the same tests as for petrol-driven cars.

The tests of electric cars require extra fire and safety precautions. Special attention is paid to 'post-crash battery integrity and the proper functioning of the battery cut-off switch that isolates the high-voltage battery' in a smash, Euro NCAP says, adding that 'no electrical or fire hazards were detected during the testing of the i-MiEV'.

The plug-in endured similar tests as the five-star Audi A1, and the two-star mainland-made Landwind CV9 MPV. Vehicles fitted with crash dummies are given a frontal impact test at 64km/h against an immovable block fitted with a deformable aluminium honeycomb face 'to represent the most frequent type of road crash resulting in serious or fatal injury', testers say.

Cars are subjected to a side-impact test into a rigid pole at 29km/h to test side and head airbag protection. Testers assess a car's child safety in the fitting of Isofix mounts and the secure attachment of child restraints. Subsequent tests 'replicate accidents' involving child and adult pedestrians at 40km/h.

It is difficult to assess pedestrian protection using a full dummy, testers say. 'Although it is possible to control the point of impact of the bumper against the pedestrian's leg, it is impossible to control where the dummy's head will subsequently strike. Individual component tests are used instead. A legform test assesses the protection afforded to the lower leg by the bumper, an upper legform assesses the leading edge of the bonnet and child and adult head forms are used to assess the bonnet top area.'

Testers also study car seats and headrest protection against whiplash, an injury that can be caused by, or related to, a sudden distortion of the spine, usually at low speed, rear-end collisions.

The assessors also watch the steering and yaw behaviour of a car's electronic stability control, which becomes mandatory for all new cars sold in the European Union next year. The Euro NCAP subject the cars to 'sine-with dwell' tests based on an actual double lane change manoeuvre at 80km/h with sudden steering wheel rotations up to 270 degrees.

In other tests, the small off-road 4x4 Dacia Duster earned just three stars, but the Mitsubishi ASX and the Nissan Juke achieved five, as did the BMW X1.