Looking back transfigures reality, and that’s perfectly human. But not everything was better in the past. Example road safety: 50 years ago, 18,811 people lost their lives on the roads in what was then the Federal Republic of Germany. The number has now fallen to around 3,000, although the population, traffic and the number of automobiles have increased significantly over the past five decades. This development is mainly due to the growing safety of vehicles.
The optimization of automobiles began in the 1950s with the engineer Béla Barényi from Lower Austria, who integrated the idea of passive safety into automobile development and, among other things, invented the so-called crumple zone. Also 50 years ago, a steam turbine on a disused airfield got a Skoda 100 moving, ending at a solid concrete barrier. This first crash test on what was then Czechoslovakian soil was about three things: the doors had to open without any problems after the crash, the steering wheel had to move away from the driver and the space for the occupants had to not deform. The test was successful. The fact that the petrol tank placed in front of the front axle showed a spontaneous attack of incontinence was – well – somehow overlooked, but it wasn’t part of the requirements either.
In the meantime, the safety requirements have increased significantly, and the vehicles also have to pass the so-called NCAP test, in which the best are awarded five stars. “Since 2008, our models have always received five stars, and three times we were best in class,” explains Radek Urbis, Head of Safety Development at Skoda. “In India, the Kushaq was the only model on the market to achieve five stars from the Global NCAP, making it the safest car in India.” The Global NCAP is the global equivalent of the European program for evaluating new models, the European New Car Assessment or Euro NCAP.
“The requirements of the NCAP test change every two years. That’s why we always have to anticipate the new requirements in our developments,” explains Urbis. According to Urbis, Skoda has already “set its own standards that are significantly higher than the NCAP requirements” in the test for electric vehicles. Instead of the required 64 km/h, the e-mobiles are crashed at 80 km/h.
Before the first crash test, according to Urbis, there are “thousands of computer simulations in which we go through every imaginable situation. Only then are these results checked with prototypes.” A total of 15 hand-made prototypes (unit price one million euros) of each new model in Úhelnice are driven against the barriers using all the rules of crash art. After the results obtained have been evaluated, production models are also allowed to crash. 100 crashes are carried out before the final production release.
In 2019, the system originally built by TÜV Süd was doubled in size and is now designed for 300 tests a year. In 2020, the Polygon test center was named Crash Laboratory of the Year.
The example of the Fabia shows how the safety of Skoda models has developed in recent years. In the fourth model generation, the proportion of the three hardest steel grades increased from 15 to 40 percent compared to the previous model. Overall, the proportion of high-strength steel components is 80 percent. In addition to the improvement in hardware, i.e. bodywork, the brand is also improving passenger safety through the use of airbags (at least six in the European Union) and standard Isofix mounts for the safe installation of child seats. The Enyaq iV has nine airbags and the Octavia has ten.
In addition to passenger safety, the best possible protection for other road users is also on the developers’ agenda. More than 200 different tests are carried out in Úhelnice to reduce the consequences of an accident for pedestrians or cyclists. This includes the design of the bumper, which is attached in front of the steel reinforcement of the front bumper using an energy-absorbing material. In addition to these measures, a whole army of sensors helps to recognize obstacles, stay in lane and recognize dangers, thus avoiding accidents.