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VE safe: Holden

Thump: VE Commodore hits the ANCAP barrier. Digital image: Chris Harris

Holden defends its billion-dollar car as new evidence shows a lower crash score

Holden logo20 Jun 2007

By MARTON PETTENDY

GM HOLDEN has defended the safety of its new VE Commodore following the four-star crash test rating it received last week from the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP), whose test results show the billion-dollar VE recorded a lower frontal offset score than that of the VY Commodore in May 2003.

Information obtained by GoAuto reveals that while its predecessor scored 12.79 points out of 16 in the offset impact test, the all-new Commodore scored just 11.45 points in the same test – meaning it has fallen below the 12.5-point minimum score required by ANCAP to be eligible for five stars overall.

Asked why the 1997 VT Commodore-based VY model performed better in the offset test than the new VE, whose substantial kerb weight gain was largely attributed to its improved chassis strength and crashworthiness, Holden chairman Denny Mooney told GoAuto this week: “You know, I would tell you that, but I don’t have that data sitting in front of me.

“They were right on top of each other. I would tell you that just on that one measure, that those two cars were very similar. They pretty much performed the same,” he said.

As GoAuto reported last week and as predicted by Holden engineering director Tony Hyde at its launch, the new VE achieved the same four-star ANCAP crash test rating overall as the VY did four years ago and Ford’s Falcon did five years ago.

Its score of 27.45 points out of 37 was less than one point ahead of both the AUIII Falcon’s (27.27 points) and the VY Commodore’s (26.74).

While the VE’s offset crash performance fell short of the VY’s, GoAuto has learned the VE has vastly better side impact protection, as indicated by a 3mm reduction in driver door width (compared with 78mm for the VY). The VE scored 15 points out of 16 (losing just one point because the rear door on the struck side opened slightly).

13 center imageLeft: Holden’s in-house VE side impact test.

A source has told GoAuto the VE scored just one bonus point over the VY for its seatbelt reminder, but lost the same two points for knee hazards, indicating that the addition of features such as a front passenger seatbelt reminder and/or knee airbags could have made a significant difference to its score without altering the vehicle’s structure.

The source said the passenger cell of the VE was exceptionally strong and there was minimal footwell deformation, as indicated by pedal movement. That showed that the structure of the Commodore was well designed for the offset crash test. However, more work is needed on reducing the chest and lower leg loads.

Toyota’s new Aurion large sedan, which like the VE comes with stability control across the range but also adds side curtain airbags as standard, came the closest to posting the Australian car industry’s first five-star result, with a score of 30 out of 37.

The Aurion achieved a “high” four-star test result, while both the Falcon and now Commodore recorded a “mid” four-star rating.

Like all Australian car companies, with the exception of those that score and often publish their maximum five-star results, Holden says it acknowledges ANCAP but maintains a single crash test is not as definitive or as consistent as a variety of tests it conducts in-house.

“You know, our bodies are designed to perform in lots of different crashes and if we try to just optimise around one performance criteria it can sub-optimise in the real world,” said Mr Mooney.

“There’s more variation from test to test than there is on what you would have seen from the VZ or VYII and the VE,” he said.

GM Holden’s national manager media relations John Lindsay said the company conducted nearly 80 crash tests during the VE’s development, as well as more than 5000 computer-simulated barrier tests.

“We acknowledge that ANCAP exists and that it has a purpose but we don’t design our cars for ANCAP,” he said.

“ANCAP is only one measure of safety performance. It is just one element of assessing a car’s actual safety. People will always do their own testing, but we do a lot more extensive testing in a lot more situations, so we feel we have an overall car that is suited to the real world.”

Mr Lindsay said that current crash test results cannot be compared with those of older models.

“The thing is (ANCAP) is not a true measure of vehicle safety. Comparing between vehicles is just as misleading. Current data and feedback shows you cannot compare across one of our models with one of the older ones because there are different elements for which you may or may not get points for.

“The result does not mean that one car is better than the other for safety. Overall we would say the VE has a far stiffer body,” he said.

ANCAP chairman Lachlan McIntosh told GoAuto that Australian car-makers needed to catch up with the global view on NCAP, which is one of the world’s only sources of new-vehicle crash test data that is independent from the manufacturers’ own (usually secret) crash test results.

“I think ANCAP generally is disappointed we’re not seeing the same enthusiasm for five-star cars from manufacturers that we see in Europe,” he said.

“Holden tell us they do all those tests, but they never publish them – the results are never public ... I’ve been doing this job of chairman of ANCAP for almost 15 years and Holden has made those claims for 15 years that they do all these tests, but we never see the results because they’re never published.

“There are views that say ANCAP isn’t the only test – that’s true for electric appliances and the like, which have water and power star ratings that encourage the consumer to pick them up.

“We don’t do just one test. We publish all the results of all the tests of all the cars we do. We do an offset frontal, we do a side impact, we do different models at different times and the manufacturers have the opportunity to see them done. They’re public tests.

“The manufacturers are testing their own cars and not publishing the results. I think their arguments are fairly feeble.

“To give the manufacturers their worldwide credit, they’ve really passed by this comment that NCAP tests don’t matter. That’s not the case in Europe, the US or Japan and I don’t think that’s the general view from the Australian manufacturers – I think it’s the view of a few people who are left to comment.

“We know that safer cars save lives. We know that from a national road safety strategy that we would save about 150 lives a year if everyone was in the safest car, so it’s important to move forward on this,” said Mr McIntosh.

Mr McIntosh said ANCAP had expected a five-star result from the latest round of tests, and that next year’s redesigned Falcon stood to gain a valuable marketplace advantage if it proved to be a five-star car.

“I’d certainly encourage Ford to make a five-star car. The guys at Ford did a lot of good work on the Territory, so I’m sure they’ll be working pretty hard on the Falcon.

“They’ve got a pretty good international track record and I’d be hoping they will want to continue that. In the US Ford advertises it has more high NCAP results than anyone else,” he said, adding that NCAP crash rating stickers became mandatory on all new cars in the US this year.

Mr McIntosh said ANCAP had expected a five-star result from the latest round of tests, and that next year’s redesigned Falcon stood to gain a valuable marketplace advantage if it proved to be a five-star car.

“I’d certainly encourage Ford to make a five-star car. The guys at Ford did a lot of good work on the Territory, so I’m sure they’ll be working pretty hard on the Falcon.

“They’ve got a pretty good international track record and I’d be hoping they will want to continue that. In the US Ford advertises it has more high NCAP results than anyone else,” he said, adding that NCAP crash rating stickers became mandatory on all new cars in the US this year.

Mr Lindsay stressed that ANCAP does not test for items like electronic stability control, which is widely recognised as one of the best ways to avoid an accident in the first place.

New research revealed this week by the UK’s department of transport shows that vehicles equipped with stability control are 25 per cent less likely to be involved in a fatal accident.

Read more:

Four stars for GM Holden's billion-dollar baby

GM Holden in the red again


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