Peter Anderson | Aug 16, 2012

A new American crash-testing process, known as the 'small overlap' test, has revealed weaknesses in top safety-scoring models such as the Volkswagen CC and Mercedes C-Class.

Developed by the US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the 'small overlap' test is unique to North America, but could eventually work its way into local testing criteria.

In a statement today, Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) Chairman Lauchlan McIntosh said that the organisation is monitoring safety-testing developments in other markets.

“ANCAP continues to see new models entering the Australasian market that do not perform well in current ANCAP crash tests, so it is important to continue with these," Mr McIntosh said.

“However, more demanding tests like the IIHS small overlap frontal crash test would complement the suite of ANCAP tests and discourage manufacturers from tuning the design of vehicles to a particular crash test."

Existing ANCAP tests include side and pole impacts, pedestrian collisions and whiplash tests. Roof crush testing will be added to the programme from 2014.

The new IIHS 'small overlap' test sees a vehicle strike a solid barrier at 64km/h (40mph), impacting just 25 percent of its frontal area. The goal is to replicate a collision with a tree, pole or a parked car.

In early tests, Volkswagen's CC had its front passenger door torn off when the front wheel was forced back on impact, compromising the door's hinges.

The CC's chassis rail was undamaged, however, suggesting the result will likely have been a shock for VW engineers.

The BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 also came off poorly, in stark contrast to their impressive performances in Euro NCAP testing.

Among the best-performing models was Volvo's S60 sedan, while the Acura TL (related to the Accord) was rated 'marginal'. Both cars carry ANCAP five-star ratings, but only four stars under the Euro NCAP criteria.

Euro NCAP test results are sometimes adopted by ANCAP, with the proviso that the car tested comes to Australia with the same specification.

Speaking with TMR, Mr Clarke said that 'one size fits all' crash testing isn't a top priority.

"There will always be a need to have unique ratings systems in different jurisdictions, because obviously the driving conditions, market conditions, geography and topography and so forth, are different. We have many, many more rollover accidents in Australia than in Japan," he said.

"The purpose of us getting together at an international level, including the Americans, is to work on improving and aligning the tests so we can actually save everybody a lot of time and effort."

ANCAP is more interested in active crash avoidance and Mr Clarke also believes the industry is about to take a great leap forward to making cars 'uncrashable'

ANCAP CEO Nicholas Clarke will visit Japan in September to discuss further global harmonisation of crash-testing, with increased cooperation with Euro NCAP and ASEAN nations likely to be a focus.