Computers assist small SUVs in passing crash tests image

The subcompact crossover segment is shaping up as the place to go for automakers even on the full-size vehicle loving US market, but the companies do need to pass one test with flying colors – crash simulations.

The small crossover segment has already taken by storm the European market, but there the customers were already accustomed to smaller models, such as compact-class hatchbacks. But the segment is now also increasingly competitive on the US market, where big-sized SUVs and pickup trucks are usually all the rage. And such models lift the new segment’s appeal as the Chevy Trax – which just showed being little is not inherently dangerous. The model just took with flying colors two important safety tests – and the main reason is today’s super-fast computers that allowed engineers to run crashes without actually destroying valuable cars. The Trax, even if it’s almost 20 inches shorter than a Chevy Equinox, for example, took home five stars in government crash tests and also nailed the crucial “top safety pick” mark from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

“Small vehicles are naturally challenged” in crash simulations, says Trax chief engineer Al Manzor, as the less metal area means less protection for those inside. GM already sells around the world three small crossovers: the Trax, Buick Encore and Opel Mokka. The faster computers – which are a well kept secret at every automaker – allows for faster and more accurate crash simulations, so when the actual crash tests are done there are no surprises. And the subcompact SUV segment needs to be just as safe as larger industry sectors, with models such as the Fiat 500X, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade and Mazda CX-3 poised to enter the US market and compete with the Trax and the Buick Encore.