Friday, April 04, 2008

Smart ForTwo Passes NHTSA Crash Test With Stars and an Asterisk

By Chris Haak


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) just completed its first crash tests of the diminuitive Smart ForTwo minicar. The good news for Smart is that the car received four stars for driver frontal protection and three stars for passenger front impact protection. The ForTwo also received the top five star rating for side impacts.

The problem is that the driver's door unlatched and opened during the side impact test. Although the belted dummy still survived the crash with relatively minor injuries (thus earning the five star rating), the agency raised "concerns" about the safety implications of a door opening during impact.

Smart expected the vehicle to earn a four star rating from US regulators; it appears that, other than the door latch problem, they exceeded expectations in the side impact test and didn't quite meet them in protecting the passenger from a frontal impact. Smart did not immediately have any comments or rebuttals posted on their media website, but I would certainly expect the company to investigate the door latch issue and redesign the part, then request a re-test.

Crash test results from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for the Smart ForTwo have not yet been released; they are expected to be later this month. IIHS tests are generally more difficult than NHTSA tests to pass, as IIHS tests frontal offset crashes where only part of the car's front end hits the solid barrier, which significantly increases crash forces to the part of the car that strikes the barrier. It's easier for cars to absorb a frontal impact that hits the entire front end and spreads crash energy across more of the crash structure.

The "concern" from the NHTSA (plus the three star front passenger rating) are something of a blow to Smart, because the company has very aggressively played up the ForTwo's safety features, primarily to allay concerns that US buyers may have about driving an 8 foot, 8 inch long vehicle weighing only 1,800 pounds on US highways where the average vehicle is nearly twice as heavy (and in many cases is three times heavier or more). In fact, every Smart showroom has a tridion safety cage from a Smart ForTwo on display to show just how such a small car has the ability to protect occupants and dissipate crash energy. For those reasons, my guess is that Smart will respond to this news quickly, but frankly I'm surprised that their PR department has been silent so far.

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