22 January 2021 · Mazda Australia News
Crash testing with Mazda
Zoom-Zoom travels to Mazda’s crash test centre in Miyoshi, Japan, to witness just how far the company will go to ensure the safety of those who use its cars
Story Shogo Hagiwara / Photography Yamasaki Takeshi Needafixer Ltd
Tension builds as the two cars face each other from opposite ends of a huge, brightly lit corridor. Suspense fills the air in anticipation of each vehicle’s short, violent future.
We’re at Mazda’s crash test centre in Miyoshi, Japan. Following a cue, the cars – set on a frontal collision course – are propelled into each other at speeds of up to 100 km/h. The test takes just seconds, but the sight of two vehicles ramming into each other is chilling, as is the shattering noise. However, the destruction is both dramatic and necessary. It is an important part of the process required to minimise the impact a serious road accident might have on the car’s driver and passengers.
Opened in 2018, the centre has staged numerous tests, each geared towards ensuring Mazda’s cars are as safe as science and technology will allow.
Hiroto Kido has developed Mazda’s crash safety technology since 2005, and explains why the tests continue to be important: “We carry out a lot of crash tests in virtual environments. But we still need to carry out tests using real cars to prove our various hypotheses.
“We look at how impact on the occupants can be minimised in a crash. This involves analysing the car’s structure down to the smallest detail, and installing various safety parts and features throughout the vehicle.”
Kido acknowledges the speed with which computer simulations have progressed is amazing, and that he and his colleagues increasingly use this technology. However, actual crash-testing remains the final hurdle before a production model makes it on to the road. Indeed, it’s the final step of a process that starts at the beginning of a car’s journey to production.
Kido explains: “Our involvement with the development of a new model starts right at the beginning, discussing safety plans in depth with the chief designer and chief engineer. Safety has to be a key consideration; where and how, for instance, the engine or the passenger’s seats are positioned in the car.
“Then we simulate how much g-force would be experienced by an occupant in the event of an accident where a car slams into another one at a certain speed. Based on the numbers and data gained from these computer simulations, we investigate further how the impact on the occupant could be minimised.”
Skyactiv-Body is a lightweight, rigid-body frame that absorbs the impact of a collision by dispersing it in multiple directions, away from occupants.
The all-important numbers in an actual crash test are collected from sensors attached to the car and the crash-test dummies. “There are 50 sensors in the car while an adult passenger dummy has up to 100 sensors attached throughout its body, so there is a lot of data to be collected from each crash test,” says Kido.
“We conduct all types of collision tests, ranging from frontal and rear to diagonal and side impacts. We have more than 40 dummies, but few are identical as each serves a different purpose.”
Video also plays a crucial part in data collection and Mazda has as many as 20 cameras in action for each test, all recording up to 1,000 frames per second.
With the advent of advanced simulation technology, the number of actual crash tests per new model has decreased. However, according to Kido, his team still conducts a large number of tests for each model.
“It’s not the case that the more complex the exterior design, the more tests we have to carry out. But each market has its own regulations and requirements for car safety, and in order to accommodate these we usually end up doing up to 100 crash tests per model.”
Independent crash test bodies provide an assessment as to how safe each new car is. Mazda traditionally does extremely well in these tests, and Kido attributes this to the company setting an exceptionally high bar when it comes to safety.
But, while external recognition is important, it is not the goal. Kido elaborates: “Our aim is not simply to score highly in rankings like the Euro NCAP (the European New Car Assessment Programme) or ANCAP (the Australasian New Car Assessment Program). We aim higher. It’s part of Mazda’s philosophy, and can be seen in our ‘multi-load path structure’ technology.”
“WE HAVE MORE THAN 40 DUMMIES, BUT FEW ARE IDENTICAL AS EACH SERVES A DIFFERENT PURPOSE”
This is the central concept behind Mazda Skyactiv-Body, which disperses impact energy in multiple directions, improving crash safety performance. Kido continues: “Each carmaker has its own set of requirements with regards to road safety, but what sets Mazda apart is the detailed analysis of a variety of possible road accident scenarios, and their impact on the occupants inside.
“The objective of testing is to reduce the impact to occupants and pedestrians in the event of a crash and reduce injury as much as possible. The very basics of crash safety is human-centric, which is at the heart of Mazda’s car development.”
Mazda targets, and is actively working towards, an accident-free world. But is that realistic? The response from Kido is emphatic. “Yes.”
He concludes: “Tens of thousands of people lose their lives in road accidents annually. It goes without saying that a scenario in which there are no accidents is what we are aiming for. But until we achieve this, our cutting-edge safety features can – and will – save lives. That is why we constantly strive to bring advanced safety solutions to Mazda cars, with the aim of protecting the occupants.”
Mazda’s new-generation cars have fared extremely well in independent safety assessments across the world. In the European New Car Assessment Programme, the Mazda3 was the joint safest car ever rated, at 98 per cent for Adult Occupant Protection – until it was overtaken by the Mazda CX-30, which achieved 99 per cent.
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program also rated the Mazda3 at 98 per cent for Adult Occupant Protection and the CX-30 at 99 per cent. Over in the US, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Mazda3 Top Safety Pick+ status while the CX-30 was considered a Top Safety Pick.