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Equipment disparity on Ford F-150 prompts new crash test


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Automotive News / June 15, 2015

Last Thursday morning in rural northern Virginia, a silver 2015 Ford F-150 SuperCab 4x2 slammed violently into a concrete abutment at 40 mph.

It was a loud and unusual crash. But it was no accident.

Rather, it was an unprecedented follow-up crash test of a lower-volume pickup model by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

According to IIHS, the test was done specifically because Automotive News alerted it to extra safety equipment that Ford installed on the top-selling SuperCrew model -- the single model that IIHS normally tests -- but not on its Regular Cab or SuperCab F-150s. Other pickup makers will be subject to new tests on their lower-volume models starting next year, an IIHS spokesman said.

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Ford's front-end reinforcement
To improve the crashworthiness of the F-150 SuperCrew, Ford used steel bars welded to the pickup's frame that help prevent the front wheels from intruding into the passenger area in a crash involving the front corner. The parts aren't included on the F-150's other cab configurations.
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The new tests show the determination of the privately funded IIHS to root out any hint of gamesmanship on the part of automakers seeking to do just enough to ace the group's difficult crash tests and earn its top ratings.

Indeed, IIHS has launched what it calls a "research project" to determine the extent to which automakers might be taking shortcuts to pass the small-overlap test. (See story, above.)

IIHS had planned to release a special single-vehicle safety report for the 2015 F-150 because of the pickup's popularity and its transition to an aluminum body. But that report -- based on crash-test results from just the top-selling SuperCrew version, as was the institute's established practice -- has been delayed until at least July, an IIHS spokesman said.

The reason: to allow extra time to crash-test other F-150 configurations and "give consumers comprehensive information about the F-150's performance," the spokesman, Russ Rader, told Automotive News.

Marketing edge

Thursday's extraordinary test was on a SuperCab model that has a smaller rear passenger compartment and accounts for 25 percent of the F-150's sales, compared with 70 percent for the SuperCrew, Ford says. Regular Cab F-150s account for the remaining 5 percent.

This spring, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration subjected all three cab versions of the F-150 to its own battery of crash tests. All three earned five stars, the federal agency's highest rating, and the achievement features prominently in Ford's F-150 marketing.

IIHS also conducts a different set of tests, including, as of 2012, a small-overlap frontal crash test that has confounded many automakers.

A vehicle must get a "good" or "acceptable" rating on the small-overlap test to receive the group's coveted Top Safety Pick designation. In recent years, several automakers have scrambled to fortify their vehicles to retain or improve their ratings. (A higher rating, Top Safety Pick+, is reserved for vehicles with collision-mitigation technology, such as automated braking.)

To safeguard passengers in its most important vehicle, Ford installed roughly foot-long assemblies of tubular steel, welded to the SuperCrew model's frame, in front of and behind both front wheels. In the repair information it provides to collision shops, Ford calls the parts "Frame Bracket with Crew Cab Protectors." They are priced from about $50 to $58.

According to independent automotive engineers, collision experts and top IIHS testing officials, Ford's protectors on the SuperCrew model help prevent the wheels from intruding into the passenger area when the front corner of the truck strikes another vehicle or object at high speed.

"There are a lot of different things OEMs are looking at to try and get the best results for this type of collision," said one collision expert. The small-overlap test "is one of the more horrific crash tests I've seen because you don't have a lot of the vehicle to stop that energy before it's into the passenger compartment."

A Ford safety spokeswoman confirmed that Ford adds "supplementary material" to its SuperCrew model to "reinforce cab strength."

Genuine attempt

So why are the protectors absent from the other 30 percent of F-150s?

"We optimize each cab structure based on many factors including cab style, mass, wheelbase, powertrain and driveline to meet regulatory requirements and achieve public domain ratings," the Ford safety spokeswoman said.

The different safety configurations among models puzzled some outside experts consulted by Automotive News. Third-party engineers said it was their opinion that the protectors were added to the SuperCrew model for the sake of passing the IIHS test.

That's no surprise, says Joe Nolan, senior vice president for vehicle research at IIHS and head of its crash lab. He said IIHS alerted automakers five years ago that it would begin conducting the small-overlap tests in 2012, and automakers have responded by striving to improve their test performance.

"We definitely can see -- certainly for the small-overlap test -- countermeasures that automakers have put in," Nolan said.

He said he was glad to see that Ford had installed the protectors for both front wheels on the SuperCrew F-150s because it indicated a genuine attempt to improve safety.

"If you were just trying to beat the test, [the protectors] could only be on the driver's side," Nolan explained, because that's the side where the small-overlap test is done.

Still, having safety equipment vary across the myriad configurations of the same model could be problematic for IIHS and the reliability of its safety ratings in the long run, Nolan said.

"We don't know what else is different," Nolan said. "It certainly is Pandora's box if we need to start testing every cab variant, box type [and] engine type."

In the IIHS small-overlap frontal crash test, begun in 2012, a vehicle travels at 40 mph toward a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier, with 25% of the total width of the vehicle striking the barrier on the driver's side. To determine the ratings, the institute's engineers look at 3 factors.

Testing, testing

1. The amount of intrusion into the occupant compartment after the crash

2. The risk of injury as measured by sensors on test dummies

3. Restraint and movement of the dummies during the crash

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Related video - http://www.autonews.com/article/20150615/OEM11/306159945/equipment-disparity-on-ford-f-150-prompts-new-crash-test

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Wow, talk about leaving yourself wide open for a lawsuit. I can imagine the prosecution's line of questioning...

"So if we understand you correctly sir, it was important to have these safety rods on this 150 truck model. They were important right??"

But then, somehow, you concluded those same safety rods weren't necessary on the less expensive sister models of the same vehicle. Is that correct sir?

And so sir, can you please explain to this court how exactly your company decided the safety rods weren't needed on your less expensive models of the same vehicle family?

And so, of course, you instructed your global sales team that they were to advise potential customers that some models had important safety features and others did not? Is that correct sir? Like the blue truck over there (gestures) is safer than the red one over there (points)? Right? OBJECTION your honor.

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  • 1 month later...

New test shows disparities in Ford F-150 crash protection

Automotive News / July 29, 2015

After a highly unusual follow-up crash test, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has concluded that Ford Motor Co. “shortchanges” some buyers of its redesigned 2015 F-150 pickups by equipping certain models with protective steel bars while leaving them off others.

In separate crashes, a four-door crew cab F-150 SuperCrew aced IIHS’s tests and earned the safety agency’s coveted Top Safety Pick rating. But an extended cab SuperCab version of the F-150 received the second-lowest rating of “marginal.”

Why the difference?

IIHS says it comes down to four protective steel bars that Ford installed on the SuperCrew that are left off the SuperCab. The tubular bars, welded to the frame and placed in the front wheel wells, also are missing from regular cab F-150s.

David Zuby, IIHS’s chief research officer, said leaving the bars off the SuperCab “shortchanges buyers who might pick the extended cab thinking it offers the same protection in this type of crash as the crew cab.”

“It doesn’t,” he said.

“In a small-overlap front crash like this, there’s no question you’d rather be driving the crew cab than the extended cab F-150.”

In an e-mailed response to questions from Automotive News, Ford spokesman Mike Levine said Ford will add "countermeasures to the SuperCab and Regular Cab for the 2016 model year. The type of countermeasure and structure will vary by cab type."

Changing course

The IIHS originally tested the SuperCrew in April under its usual procedures to test only the highest-volume version of vehicle nameplates. The researchers were not planning to test any other F-150s.

The institute changed course after learning from Automotive News that the SuperCab lacks the SuperCrew’s wheel blockers.

The IIHS, a 55-year-old nonprofit funded by auto insurers and based in Arlington, Va., plans to release the results of the new tests Thursday. Automotive News obtained an advanced copy of the report through another source and was granted access to IIHS’s chief research officer.

“Based on these two tests, those structures which extend from the outboard edges of the frame rails seem to do a good job of protecting the occupant compartment from excessive intrusion in this type of crash,” Zuby said.

Wheel protectors

As Automotive News first reported, SuperCrew F-150s come standard with a pair of what Ford calls “protectors” in front of and behind each front wheel. The tubular steel bars extend out from the frame, absorbing energy in a frontal impact and deflecting the wheel away from the passenger cabin.

The IIHS and many engineers call the devices wheel blockers.

The 2015 models without the protectors -- the SuperCab and regular cab pickups -- historically account for about 25 percent and 5 percent of total F-150 sales, respectively, according to a Ford spokesman.

The IIHS already had tested the SuperCrew F-150 in April when Automotive News informed it that only the SuperCrew had the protective bars.

The revelation prompted the agency to delay a planned report on F-150 crash safety and to conduct a second test, on June 11, this time on a SuperCab.

In May, when Automotive News asked a Ford spokeswoman why the protectors were on the crew cab but not other versions, she said, “It’s something that we do regularly. It’s to optimize the structure. All of that is to meet regulatory requirements and achieve public domain ratings.”

Asked to clarify what public domain ratings were, she replied, “crash testing.”

Spokesman Levine said Ford had no plans to recall 2015 F-150s without the blockers, which the company calls Small Offset Rigid Barrier countermeasures.

"We are evaluating which specific changes we will make to the SuperCab and the Regular Cab to improve performance in the IIHS small-overlap front crash test," he said.

"It is important that any changes do not compromise performance on other crash tests."

Levine added: “The 2015 F-150 is the safest F-150 ever. It is the only full-size, light-duty truck to earn NHTSA’s highest five-star rating for the driver and passenger for all crash test modes and cab configurations. In addition, the 2015 F-150 SuperCrew is the first large pickup in the industry to earn an IIHS Top Safety Pick in the current rating system.”

Test results

The small-overlap front crash test has proved particularly vexing to automakers since it was introduced in 2012. The test crashes a front corner of the vehicle against a stationary barrier at 40 mph, simulating the vehicle striking an object such as a tree. Many automakers have had difficulty passing the test.

The two diverging 2015 F-150 crash test results show why.

Comparing the two models, the SuperCrew received a top rating of “good” on every crash test it was subjected to by IIHS.

The SuperCab, however, earned a “poor” rating on structure and “acceptable” ratings on restraints and kinematics, as well as hip and thigh and lower leg and foot dummy injury measurements.

The results all together earned the SuperCab an overall safety rating of “marginal,” one mark above “poor” on IIHS’s four-grade scale.

The SuperCrew’s occupant compartment remained intact, IIHS said, and the crash-test dummy had a low probability of injury thanks to the pickup’s structural and in-cabin safety equipment.

However, in the SuperCab, “intruding structure seriously compromised the driver’s survival space,” IIHS said.

The brake pedals and toepan were pushed back between 10 and 13 inches toward the driver, and the steering column was pushed back nearly 8 inches toward the driver’s chest. The crash-test dummy’s head “barely contacted the front airbag before sliding off to the left and hitting the instrument panel,” IIHS said.

The IIHS does not plan to test the regular cab F-150, which has a very similar underlying structure to the SuperCab.

Important marketing

Pickup safety is big business for automakers, especially because women influence the vast majority -- about 70 percent -- of all pickup purchasing decisions.

This spring, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration subjected all three cab versions of the F-150 to its own battery of crash tests. All three earned five stars, the federal agency’s highest rating, and the achievement features prominently in Ford’s F-150 marketing. NHTSA, however, does not conduct a test similar to the IIHS’s small-overlap test.

While NHTSA’s testing judged all three F-150s as equal, the IIHS’s testing showed that one configuration -- the SuperCrew -- was safer than the others, at least in the small-overlap frontal crash test.

Under IIHS rules, a vehicle must get a “good” or “acceptable” rating on the small-overlap and other tests to receive the group’s Top Safety Pick designation.

IIHS researcher Zuby declined to speculate on why Ford put the protectors on its SuperCrew but not on other F-150s.

“I think automakers are trying to design the vehicles to offer the best protection for their customers,” he said. “But occasionally, we do see evidence that maybe they are trying to get a good rating in a test, maybe without looking for a completely holistic solution.”

Ford spokesman Levine said “the F-150 program was well underway when this [small offset rigid barrier] test mode was introduced.”

Zuby said IIHS is always careful to identify which vehicle variant it is crash testing, but, he said, sometimes consumers make assumptions that might not be accurate.

“Which is why, when we saw this issue, we decided to do the extra test,” Zuby said, “just so that we would be providing complete information to the public.”

Related photographs - http://www.autonews.com/article/20150729/OEM11/150729843/new-test-shows-disparities-in-ford-f-150-crash-protection

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Wow, talk about leaving yourself wide open for a lawsuit. I can imagine the prosecution's line of questioning...

"So if we understand you correctly sir, it was important to have these safety rods on this 150 truck model. They were important right??"

But then, somehow, you concluded those same safety rods weren't necessary on the less expensive sister models of the same vehicle. Is that correct sir?

And so sir, can you please explain to this court how exactly your company decided the safety rods weren't needed on your less expensive models of the same vehicle family?

And so, of course, you instructed your global sales team that they were to advise potential customers that some models had important safety features and others did not? Is that correct sir? Like the blue truck over there (gestures) is safer than the red one over there (points)? Right? OBJECTION your honor.

Amen. What possible defense can they mount? "Well we did it based on odds of our less popular cab option being involved in such a crash". Whoever participated in this decision will not have a good performance review this year.

I wonder what those mods cost in the manufacturing process.

GM will be all over this like a wet blanket as they continue their "steel is stronger campaign"-while at the same time rushing to get their aluminum truck ready for market!

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  • 8 months later...

Ford Improves F-150 to Score Top Rating in Insurer Safety Test

Bloomberg  /  April 12, 2016

Ford Motor Co. added more structural protection to the 2016 F-150 SuperCab to improve the pickup’s safety rating to “good” from “marginal” in the latest crash tests by an insurer group.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tested the F-150 SuperCab as well as two body styles of pickups each from General Motors Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NA. Only the Ford truck received a “good” rating in a 40 miles-per-hour crash designed to mimic a partial head-on collision, according to an IIHS statement Tuesday.

The improved test score for the F-150 SuperCab helped it earn the group’s Top Safety Pick designation, joining the F-150 SuperCrew version. Full-size pickups are among the top selling and most profitable vehicles in the U.S., and safety ratings are critical to the contractors and ranchers who buy them.

“We commend Ford for taking last year’s test results to heart and upgrading protection for the SuperCab occupants in small overlap crashes,” Raul Arbelaez, vice president of the IIHS Vehicle Research Center, said in a statement. “Ford is leading the way among large pickup manufacturers when it comes to protecting people in a range of crashes.”

The F-150 SuperCab is an extended-cab model, with two smaller rear doors and compact second-row seats. The SuperCrew is a crew-cab model, with full-size rear doors and second-row seats.

In the so-called small overlap crash test, GM’s Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Double Cab and GMC Sierra 1500 Double Cab got “acceptable” ratings, as did Toyota’s Tundra Double Cab. Crew Cab versions of the two GM models and the Toyota truck were rated “marginal,” as were FCA’s Ram 1500 Crew Cab and 1500 Quad Cab.

“No single test determines overall, real-world vehicle safety,” Lisa Barrow, a Fiat Chrysler spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. “Every FCA vehicle meets or exceeds all applicable motor-vehicle safety standards.”

Toyota is “evaluating the test results with the goal of finding new ways to continuously improve the performance of Toyota trucks and to further enhance the safety of out vehicles,” Cindy Knight, a spokeswoman for the company, said in an e-mail. The Tundra models meet or exceed all federal safety standards, she said.

GM spokesman Tom Wilkerson declined to comment about the test scores.

Extra Support

After getting a marginal rating on its 2015 F-150 SuperCab, Ford added extra safety supports already found in its larger SuperCrew version. The company said it reinforced the rocker panels and added wheel blockers and nylon hinge pillars to the F-150 SuperCab to better control crash forces.

“We spent thousands of hours engineering, designing and developing multiple safety features that work together in the event of an accident” Raj Nair, Ford global product development chief, said in a statement.

In 2012, IIHS began conducting the small overlap test to measure how vehicles perform in a crash designed to simulate an oncoming car drifting over the center line or running into a tree or telephone pole.

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