Tuesday, 26 April 2011 16:38

GM's Volt, Nissan Leaf get top marks in IIHS crash tests

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) crash tested the two first generation 2011 plug-ins for the first time and both earned top safety ratings, an endorsement of the automaker's view that you do not have to sacrifice safety for better fuel economy.

The Volt and Leaf earned the top rating of good for front, side, rear, and rollover crash protection. With standard electronic stability control, they qualify as winners of TOP SAFETY PICK, IIHS' award for state-of-the-art crash protection. GM's plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt and the Nissan's all-electric Leaf clearly save on fuel , but the size and weight of their battery packs add significant crash protection as well. The strong marks for front, side and rear crash protection also indicate automakers are using the same safety engineering in electric cars as they do in traditional gas-powered vehicles.

The Volt and Leaf are classified as small cars in terms of their overall length, width, and carrying capacity; however, their hefty battery packs put their curb weights closer to midsize and larger cars.  "The Leaf and Volt's extra mass gives them a safety advantage over other small cars," said Joe Nolan, chief administrative officer for IIHS, on April 26.  "What powers the wheels is different, but the level of safety for the Volt and Leaf is as high as any of our other top crash test performers," Nolan said.

The addition of the 2 electric cars brings to 80 the number of award winners so far for 2011, including 7 hybrid models. That lifts GMs’ current model tally to 12 and Nissan’s to 3.

GM and other manufacturers have lagged Toyota and other Asian manufacturers in developing fuel-saving gasoline/electric hybrids, which account for only a fraction of the U.S. sales market.

They hope their plug-in variants will better compete and catch on with those consumers demanding improved mileage performance in their daily commutes, especially with pump prices steadily rising and averaging $3.88 a gallon nationally. Gas in some areas already exceeds $4.

The Volt and the Leaf are classified as small cars but their battery packs raise their weight closer to mid-size and larger ones.

The Leaf weighs 3,370 pounds while the Volt is about 3,760 pounds. Most midsize cars are in the range of 3,200 pounds and the Chevy Impala, a large family car, 3,500 pounds. Heavier cars generally do a better job of protecting people in crashes but do less well on fuel savings.

The findings also contrasted with a lackluster Volt endorsement earlier this year from Consumer Reports on efficiency. David Champion, director of Consumer Reports auto test center told Reuters in February that the Volt was fun to drive but did not make sense financially to operate. He said consumers seeking value and top fuel efficiency would be better off buying a top-performing hybrid like Toyota's Prius or a Fusion by Ford Motor Corp. GM responded at the time that the review was hasty.

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