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Structural design strategies for improved small overlap crashworthiness performance

Mueller, Becky C.; Brethwaite, Andrew S.; Zuby, David S.; Nolan, Joseph M.
Stapp Car Crash Journal
November 2014

In 2012, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) began a 64 km/h small overlap frontal crash test consumer information test program. Thirteen automakers already have redesigned models to improve test performance. One or more distinct strategies are evident in these redesigns: reinforcement of the occupant compartment, use of energy-absorbing fender structures, and the addition of engagement structures to induce vehicle lateral translation. Each strategy influences vehicle kinematics, posing additional challenges for the restraint systems. The objective of this two-part study was to examine how vehicles were modified to improve small overlap test performance and then to examine how these modifications affect dummy response and restraint system performance. Among eight models tested before and after design changes, occupant compartment intrusion reductions ranged from 6 cm to 45 cm, with the highest reductions observed in models with the largest number of modifications. All redesigns included additional occupant compartment reinforcement, one-third added structures to engage the barrier, and two modified a shotgun load path. Designs with engagement structures produced greater glance-off from the barrier and exhibited lower delta Vs but experienced more lateral outboard motion of the dummy. Designs with heavy reinforcement of the occupant compartment had higher vehicle accelerations and delta V. In three cases, these apparent trade-offs were not well addressed by concurrent changes in restraint systems and resulted in increased injury risk compared with the original tests. Among the 36 models tested after design changes, the extent of design changes correlated to structural performance. Half of the vehicles with the lowest intrusion levels incorporated aspects of all three design strategies. Vehicle kinematics and dummy and restraint system characteristics were similar to those observed in the before/after pairs. Different combinations of structural improvement strategies for improving small overlap test performance were found to be effective in reducing occupant compartment intrusion and improving dummy kinematics in the IIHS small overlap test with modest weight increase.