The insurance company AXA has read from its statistics that owners of electric cars crash on average 50 percent more often than drivers of internal combustion cars. In addition, her records revealed that in the event of an accident, she will cause up to twice as much damage. It therefore decided to organize two crash tests simulating typical accidents to find out how electric cars would perform in them.
Michael Pfäffli, head of AXA’s accident investigation team, sees the main cause of high damages in the generally greater power of electric cars. “The more powerful a car is, the more damage it causes to itself or others in an accident.”
The biggest money in accidents clearly revolves around the traction battery. “The battery is the heart of the electric car. It affects not only its performance and driving characteristics, but also the construction and weight. In addition, it has a fundamental influence on the way rescue and recovery work is carried out,” points out Pfäffli.
At the same time, according to Axa, the driving characteristics of electric cars differ significantly from internal combustion cars. The insurance company’s survey found that more than fifty percent of electric car drivers had to adjust their driving behavior, especially when braking. “Which is surprising, because our analyzes show that the greatest risk is not brought by braking, but on the contrary by acceleration,” says the expert. According to him, most electric cars have an unexpectedly large torque, which is also available immediately after pressing the accelerator pedal. And this sometimes leads to unwanted acceleration, which the driver can no longer correct.
The first of the two crash tests was supposed to create just such a situation, in which the Tesla driver presses the pedal only briefly and loses control of the vehicle due to sudden acceleration. The car then rushes to the roundabout at an unreasonable speed, the driver is no longer able to brake and the “roundabout” runs over the vehicle. Here, however, a pitfall awaits in the form of uneven terrain, which will seriously damage the chassis, and in addition, the car will turn over on its roof during the maneuver.
Crashtest Tesla Model S | Video: AXA
The crash test showed that even in a Tesla with the wheels pointing to the heavens, there will be no deformation of the cabin. Thanks to seat belt pretensioners and effective airbags, the car crew can escape with little or no injuries. Flames eventually erupted from the chassis of the tested car, but they were the work of pyrotechnicians present. The insurance company wanted to demonstrate how a seemingly banal accident can be dangerous for battery cars.
“It seems that the chassis is really the Achilles’ heel of electric cars. Our experience shows that the battery is often damaged when crossing road islands, stones or roundabouts,” says Michael Pfäffli.
Although the battery is protected all around by a frame, a similar reinforcement is missing from below. The insurance company therefore appeals to car manufacturers to protect the chassis with titanium plates or similar resistant materials. At the same time, it sends a recommendation to the EuroNCAP organization to also focus on the stability of chassis parts during crash tests. In one breath, however, AXA adds that the public often overestimates the risk of fire – statistically, only five cars out of 10,000 will catch fire. According to the records of the insurance company, the risk of the car being damaged by a marten is 38 times greater.
Records also show that electric cars do not catch fire more often than internal combustion ones. “However, if there is a fire, usually the battery cells catch fire, which are tricky to extinguish,” says Pfäffli. According to him, there is still no satisfactory solution to do it quickly, safely, ecologically and cheaply.
Another pain point of electric cars, according to Axa experts, is the high weight. Current cars registered with the insurance institute weigh an average of 1,680 kilograms, which is a quarter more than twenty years ago. In addition, there is an assumption that with the boom in electromobility, the two-tonne average will be surpassed within the next few years.
The second test was to show how it would turn out when a gasoline Volkswagen Golf collides head-on with an electric one at a speed of 50 km/h. While the internal combustion Golf weighs 1250 kg, the battery-powered one has four meters more.
VW Golf crash test: Gasoline vs electric | Video: AXA
“In an accident, the difference in weight between the vehicles involved is decisive. A lighter car is at a disadvantage because the energy load is greater than a heavy vehicle,” explains Pfäffli. AXA’s statistics only confirm this: A heavy passenger car weighing over two tons causes on average ten percent more property damage than a light car weighing less than a ton.
In this case, however, the difference in the weight of the two cars had no effect on the possible consequences for the crew. The cabins of both cars remained intact after the test, and the passengers would have received at most minor injuries from the accident.
However, the petrol Golf suffered slightly more damage than its electric counterpart in the experiment. A collision with an electric car will actually be a bit more expensive for the owner of an internal combustion engine.