Why would anyone have an interest in changing crash tests to make large SUVs appear safer than passenger cars?
Without getting into conspiracy theories about how the automakers want to sell larger SUVs, because they are more profitable, and the oil industry wants people driving larger SUVs because they burn more gas, the basic problem is size and mass differences between vehicles on the road. When a small car and a big truck collide, the small car will come off second best. So, the incentive is to push everyone into the same size vehicle. The auto industry has enabled ever larger, more expensive, vehicles by offering financing for ever longer periods, so the IIHS is following that trend in designing it’s tests to favor larger vehicles.
This is the IIHS’ reasoning in changing it’s tests.
IIHS raises Top Safety Pick bar with tougher side crash test
"Nearly all new cars score a “Good” rating in the original side crash test, yet people are still dying in side crashes,” Joe Young, IIHS director of public relations, said in an interview.
“The average weight of SUVs on the road has increased about 1,000 lb over the last 20 years to about 4,600 lb,” Young said. “The new barrier weighs 4,180 lb, which is about in line with the average weight of a mid-size SUV.” (recall, the article I posted noted their idea of a “mid-size” SUV, along the lines of a Ford Explorer or Lincoln Aviator. I think those things are huge)
The original test launched in 2003 had a 3,300-lb barrier striking the test car side at 31 mph. The new test uses the heavier barrier and a strike speed of 37 mph.
Not only passenger cars are suffering under the revised tests, so are smaller CUVs, as was the intention in revising the tests.
Small SUVs struggle in new, tougher side test
“We developed this new test because we suspected there was room for more progress, and these results confirm that,” IIHS President David Harkey says. “The good rating for the CX-5 shows that robust protection in a more severe side crash is achievable.”
Nine vehicles earn acceptable ratings: the Audi Q3, Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, Toyota Venza and Volvo XC40.
Eight others — the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, GMC Terrain, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Compass, Jeep Renegade, Kia Sportage and Lincoln Corsair — earn marginal ratings. Two more, the Honda HR-V and Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, receive poor ratings.
Note that Harkey praises the CX-5 for doing well in the new tests. Eventually all small CUVs will do well in the tests. This is the situation that IIHS defined as a problem when justifying the test revision, so, when small CUVs do well, they will make the tests even harder, to make smaller CUVs look problematic again.
The high safety rating of the Impreza was a key factor in my purchase decision.
The article I posted noted that the one passenger car tested, that did well, was the Subaru Outback. The article also notes that, while the Outback has a conventional station wagon body, it is jacked up so high on it’s suspension that it has the ride height of an SUV, so the floorpan takes the impact, rather than the B pillar.
A couple weeks ago, I was at the local VW dealer. There is an Audi store next door, so I mosied over to look at the A4 Allroad station wagon they just received. The Allroad is an Outback wannabe, but it isn’t jacked up as high as the Outback. I couldn’t help but notice how large the door sill was, no doubt to provide the strength to meet the crash tests, and how awkward it was to step over that sill. The VW Tiguan and Taos have a much smaller door sill, much easier to step over, because they have a higher ride height, hence a higher floorpan where the test sled will hit, so they don’t need so much extra reinforcement.
Why compare them since people who want one won’t be interested in buying the other?
I would suggest that consumer choice takes a back seat to money: money from insurance claims not paid, money booked by automakers from selling bigger SUVs, money for the oil industry from selling fuel for SUVs that struggle to get 28 miles on a gallon of gas.
Remember the 2006 fuel mileage “reform”, which completely changed how mpg standards are set? This is what VW, which had no competitive SUVs in it’s line until recently, said.
"Volkswagen does not endorse the proposal under discussion. It places an unfairly high burden on passenger cars, while allowing special compliance flexibility for heavier light trucks. Passenger cars would be required to achieve 5% annual improvements, and light trucks 3.5% annual improvements. The largest trucks carry almost no burden for the 2017–2020 timeframe, and are granted numerous ways to mathematically meet targets in the outlying years without significant real-world gains. The proposal encourages manufacturers and customers to shift toward larger, less efficient vehicles, defeating the goal of reduced greenhouse gas emissions."
As with the IIHS test, the CAFE standard is also skewed to favor large SUVs over passenger cars. I read the 2006 reg when it came out, and it explicitly said it was designed the way it was to discourage the production of smaller passenger cares, because they are “less safe”.