Sydney Morning Herald - Monday 1 December, 2003

Crunch time

By Julian Rendell
The shape of cars is changing to meet strict new pedestrian safety rules. Julian Rendell previews the styling of the vehicles of the future.

Car design is being forced in a new direction by laws aimed at making cars more pedestrian-friendly in accidents.

Every car-maker is grappling with the new laws, which come into force in Europe from October 2005, forcing designers to redraw everything from sports cars to hatchbacks and four-wheel-drives.

Put simply, almost all new cars provide little in the way of protection when it comes to pedestrians. The laws plan to include "soft" zones on critical points of the car to minimise injuries to pedestrians.

In Australia, pedestrians account for about one in six road fatalities.

The laws are set to raise bonnet lines and extend front overhangs for sports cars and hatchbacks, but for 4WDs it means the opposite, with lower bonnet lines and, possibly, ground-hugging bumper shrouds -- features that will transform the look of some of the most popular cars on the road.

"This is the most fundamental change in decades in the ways cars have to be designed," says British pedestrian safety engineer Gary Brown, of independent research group MIRA.

His view is echoed by many designers, among them Andy Wheel, Land Rover's lead designer. Wheel says: "This is going to be a real challenge. In the next 10 years you're going to see fundamental changes in the look of new cars."

The legislation may even force radical changes in vehicle layout and configuration, with engines moved to the rear or underneath.

The head of the Royal College of Art's vehicle design department, Dale Harrow, says: "I've heard of brainstorming sessions at some car makers where they're talking about relocating the engine to the back."

The new laws set out four tests that vehicles must pass. The criteria -- couched in such technical terms as forces, angles, bending moments and absorbed energy -- translate as the broken legs, smashed pelvises, wrecked knee ligaments and fractured skulls suffered by pedestrians when hit by a car.

To limit such damage, engineers and designers will have to make the entire front of a car one enormous, soft crumple zone, yet still maintain car-to-car crash performance, satisfy the low-speed parking test and limit damage in insurance industry assessments. It is a huge technical and aesthetic challenge.

The first detail of a car's front end to be redesigned is the bumper, which must double as a crumple zone and be moved away from the hard bumper beam. For Phase I in 2005, experts agree the clearance must be 65mm, increasing to 80 for Phase II. That may not sound like much, but car design is usually measured in single millimetres.

Not just the bumper is affected; all frontal parts that might come into contact with a pedestrian will need attention.

Above the bumper, the bonnet leading edge will need remodelling and re-engineering to prevent or minimise pelvis and thigh injuries. Previous testing has shown that the shape of the leading edge determines the severity of impacts between knee and hip.

Sports cars with low noses or snub-nosed, one-box people-movers will be exempt from the leading edge test. But for bluff-fronted 4WDs the test is tough, involving complex mathematical formulas of bonnet slope and height.

Brown says: "The conflicting requirements make the task incredibly difficult."

It is also likely to push designers away from bonnets that incorporate the grille, as in many Benzes and BMWs. It will be difficult to get such designs to pass because the support structure around the grille will not crumple.

Locally, Holden design chief -- and recently appointed Daewoo design boss -- Mike Simcoe says: "[The new laws] are a concern from a design perspective because they're going to drive a lot of cost and visual mass into the front of the car.

"So the front end of cars will change as a result but in the long term designers will learn to work around them."

Some designers are resigned to coping with the rules. Peter Stevens, the respected designer of the McLaren F1 road car, says: "The early safety cars of the 1970s were supposed to signal the end of beautiful cars, but the industry coped. This is just another challenge that we will have to deal with."


The Age - Monday 1 December 2003

Bye-bye bullbar

By Debbie Anderson

New international standards for vehicle design are set to put some makers between a bar and a hard place.

It is not just the bumper that will be affected by the change in car design laws. All parts of the front of a vehicle that might come into contact with a pedestrian or animal will be under the spotlight -- and it could spell the beginning of the end for a popular vehicle accessory in Australia, the bullbar.

Despite their popularity, bullbars and roo bars have come under fire in recent years.

Authorities in NSW, for example, have cracked down on sharp protrusions on bullbars, which are illegal under an Australian Design Rule, via registration renewals.

In 1998, a standards committee began drafting a new Vehicle Frontal Protection Systems Standard. That standard was drafted to require all new bullbars to be free of sharp edges such as lights, antennas, winches or fishing-rod holders that could hook or graze a pedestrian, in a bid to dramatically reduce a pedestrian's chances of suffering brain injury if hit by a bullbar-equipped vehicle.

Meanwhile, the Pedestrian Council of Australia has routinely slammed bullbars for their role in vehicle impacts with pedestrians -- particularly in urban areas where, according to the council's chairman, Harold Scruby, bullbars are a "fashion item".

Bullbars have also been criticised for their potential to compromise vehicle crash safety features. A bullbar can interfere with the triggering of airbags, for example. It can also affect the behaviour of a vehicle's front crumple zone, designed to protect cabin occupants by buckling in a controlled manner during a crash.

Hopping mad

Kangaroos could be unintended beneficiaries of new laws to make car design more pedestrian-friendly.

Collisions between animal and vehicles in Australia are a huge safety risk. The RACV estimates the annual cost in terms of injuries to people and damage to property at more than $10 million.

And kangaroos - particularly eastern grey, western grey and red kangaroos -- are by far the animal most likely to suffer.

RACV Insurance found kangaroos accounted for almost 60 percent of "animal collision" claims it received in the 12 months to August. Dogs, the next most likely animal to be hit by vehicles, accounted for about 12 percent.

Nationwide, the number of kangaroo-vehicle collisions is about 20,000 a year, according to Holden estimates.

Despite the advent of sonic devices such as the Shu Roo and wildlife warning reflectors such as Swareflex, the number of vehicle-kangaroo collisions is increasing, according to a recent report from the University of Melbourne's department of zoology.

But new vehicle design laws will mean front-end components including the grille and headlight/indicator lenses will have to be made soft enough to absorb the energy of an impact.

Of course, that won't reduce the number of vehicle-animal collisions (particularly when traffic volume is rising), but it could reduce the severity of animal injuries and fatalities.

-- Debbie Anderson