Subaru Wants Safety To Be the PriorityMay 31th, 2015
Ruckersville, VA – It was the strangest press trip set up I’ve seen. There was no new car to launch or technology to showcase, yet Subaru invested in shipping 18 Canadian auto journalists to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) crash test facility to attend a live crash test of a competitor’s car.
We’re shuttled along narrow roads through the bright green Virginia countryside, passing cattle farms with rusted-out pickup trucks, when the minimal and modern facility appears.
We’re greeted by our the research centre’s Vice President Raul Arbelaez, and in we go for a de-briefing on how IIHS operates.
Of the two main crash tests organizations in the U.S., IIHS is the non-government one. It’s a 56-year-old non-profit organization that uses five different tests to determine a vehicle’s “crashworthiness.”
Each vehicle is rated using a four tier system – Good, Acceptable, Marginal, and Poor. Those rated “Good” are further classified into Top Safety Picks (TSP) and TSP+. To be awarded a Plus, there must be crash avoidance technology that actually brakes the vehicle.
IIHS’ $4 million annual budget is 100% supplied by insurance companies. The institute purchase the test cars themselves, and there is no law that states an automaker must participate. However, the power of consumer pressure combined with the magic of public shaming work to propel automakers to make improvements when their vehicle rates poorly.
We enter the facility’s museum, which is a cavernous space filled with crashed cars and trucks, and videos looping alongside showing how they came to look like that. Some cars are stacked atop one another, showcasing a segment’s “best and worst.”
Laughing, Mr. Arbelaez recalls when one car failed hard, and the automaker implemented alterations and sent the car to be tested again. Upon receiving their improved rating, they asked if their huge failure could now be removed from the museum? Nope!
Looking around the museum I see no sign of Subaru, no obvious, “hey look over at this Subaru section, it proves we’re great at safety!”
We climb up to second-floor viewing area and settle in to watch a small overlap front crash of a non-Subaru.
The chamber is an all-white pristine room, and includes multiple video cameras that are pointed at its centre. It’s lit by the most pure white lights I’ve ever seen.
The test car’s fluids have been removed, and a dye is fed into the gasoline line to track where it may have leaked. The crash test dummy is covered in grease paint – to track what hits where – and strapped into the driver’s seat.
A noise that started as a faint whirring is now quite loud. It’s the sound of the cable preparing to propel the car into a block of concrete at 64 km/h.
A voice announces, “in 3, 2, 1 we’re underway.” The whir is now deafening, and nothing I can write will describe just how fast a crash happens. I can still hear the sound it made – that haunting sound of an instant negative life experience, one that’s probably expensive, and possibly irreversible – a week later.
We take off running down the stairs and over to the car, documenting the dummy’s wounds and inspecting the damage.
I then push through the exit door and I see a giant chart on the wall, of all test vehicle ratings, separated by segment. It’s quite something and I freeze in place staring, and then my breath sucks in
when I see it.
My answer, and Subaru’s reason for this trip, is to show that they are in the number one position for every model they make. Better still, Subaru is the only manufacturer with TSPs for all its models.
Still frozen, further analyzing patterns, I find the most impressive one – no other manufacturer comes close to these claims. Like, the difference is so glaring I’m not sure any other automaker could have hosted this press trip, what would they say? “Thanks for coming everyone, hopefully one day we’ll achieve the same results as Subaru.”
I turn to Joe Felstein, Subaru Canada’s manage of public relations, and say “come on Joe, every model?!” He smiles as he says, “yes Keri, a TSP for every model … for six consecutive years at that.”