Honda Brings ‘Totalled’ SUV to Auto Show Floor to Highlight Latest Advances in Crash-Safety Engineering

After withstanding the IIHS small-overlap test, this 2019 HR-V is ready to startle crowds in its New York Auto Show debut.


Most of the gleaming product gracing auto shows has been meticulously prepared for public display. In an unusual move, Honda brought a recently crash-tested 2019 HR-V SUV to its New York International Auto Show (NYIAS) stand, truly laying bare the structure behind the HR-V’s latest safety updates. The idea was to highlight Honda’s investment in its Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure and its goal to provide crash-testing leadership across vehicle segments.

Not your typical polished auto-show vehicle, this 2019 Honda HR-V on display at this year’s New York Auto Show is the actual vehicle IIHS ran through its small-overlap test. (SAE)

The HR-V had recently rolled of a regular production line before being subjected to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) driver-side small overlap frontal test (see below), which propels a vehicle at 40 mph (64 kph) toward a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier, striking only 25% of the vehicle’s total width on the driver’s side. The small-overlap test is considered particularly brutal as it typically bypasses a vehicle’s main frontal crush-zone structures.

Stronger connections

According to Honda’s safety engineers, energy absorption, stiff structures and the effective transfer of energy play key roles in crash safety. Note the dimple in the A-pillar. (SAE)
Proof that the entire vehicle structure plays a role in crash safety, note the significant buckle in the HR-V’s C-pillar. (SAE)

For the 2019 HR-V, the latest structural safety updates included the additional use of high-strength steel. But more important, according to Kazunobu Seimiya, chief engineer of automotive safety at Honda R&D, was maintaining the connections between the energy absorbing/directing ACE structure, and the HR-V’s main frame rails. “For this minor model change, we improved the engine [bay] frame connections, increasing the engine bay’s ability for crash absorption, which distributes the load path so the energy [better] spreads to the side sill and roof rail, and also to the opposite side of the crash.”

“Also, we increased the spot weld points to keep that tight connection,” Seimiya said, “which is a very efficient countermeasure as the [updates’s total] weight increase is less than 1 kg, but we increased our crash safety performance.” Seimiya also noted that energy absorption in the engine bay is very important, but if the crash is severe, structural stiffness is also necessary. “Energy absorption has increased, and also the cabin strength has increased. We’ve applied both countermeasures.”

Front-loaded virtual testing

Honda uses a host of advanced CAE tools in its crash-safety development, including 3DExcite DeltaGen Real Impact software it co-developed with Dassault Systems (see video, bottom). “Before we do one physical test, we might do several hundred virtual tests, and because of our high capability to predict results, we're able to design iteration after iteration to become efficient, as we can’t ignore constraints like fuel economy and overall weight,” explained Brian Bautsch, principal engineer and manager, automobile safety at Honda R&D.

Brian Bautsch, principal engineer and manager, automobile safety (left), and Kazunobu Seimiya, chief engineer of automotive safety, both of Honda R&D, with the IIHS-crashed HR-V at the Honda booth at the 2019 New York Auto Show. (SAE)

“So we can tinker and change designs and thicknesses, and understand different load paths and how to control that virtually,” Bautsch said. “And we can do that several hundred times, and then verify with a prototype, and then finally in this case, a mass-produced vehicle and have good results like we see here today.”

“We wanted to demonstrate to consumers that you can get the same high-level safety performance with a smaller, affordable vehicle,” Bautsch concluded. “Because of our common ACE structure, and our common methodology of energy absorption across the lineup, you can have a safe vehicle no matter what your needs are.”