Hyundai’s ‘Edgy’ New Ideas for Safety Testing

As Hyundai Motor Co.’s first Global Chief Safety Officer, Brian Latouf is concerned with edge-case crash testing and the changing face of safety as EVs proliferate.

Rendering of Hyundai's Safety Test and Investigation Laboratory, slated to open in late 2023 on the grounds of the company's southeast-Michigan R&D campus. (Hyundai)

In June 2022, Hyundai Motor America broke ground for its Safety Test and Investigation Laboratory (STIL), an industry-unique testing facility dedicated to root-cause crash investigations and electric vehicle/future product analysis activities at its Michigan R&D campus west of Detroit. Just after the $51.6-million STIL’s inauguration, the company named Brian Latouf as its first-ever Global Chief Safety Officer to “integrate the engineering resources of Hyundai and HMNA by combining safety field investigations, safety data analysis and safety- engineering performance into a streamlined global technical function.” At the STIL groundbreaking, SAE Mobility Media editorial director Bill Visnic spoke with Latouf about Hyundai’s crash-safety vision.

Equipping to crash vehicles is a serious undertaking. But you're actually going to crash vehicles at the new STIL facility, correct?
In July 2022, Brian Latouf, a mechanical engineer with an extensive background in vehicle crash safety, was named Hyundai Motor Co.’s first-ever Global Chief Safety Officer. (Hyundai)

Oh, we are. The Field Crash Investigation Lab is one of the key components of the STIL. But it's non-regulatory — we're going to focus on those crashes that happen in the field with our customers, and things happen. Say the airbags don't deploy, say the structure behaves differently, say you have an electronic short during the crash event and your sensing system is not operable. Things like guardrails, edge conditions, maybe a double impact, we're going to try different roll events. We're going to explore the frontier of safety. Because not everything is replicated by your traditional crash test.

You're going to be more about replicating real-world types of crashes at this facility?

We're going to have a tow line, in a tow track that's enclosed, and we're going to have a building where we're going to be able to put different sort of abutments or barriers. We have guardrails, poles, other vehicles – and we're going to have it extend outside. We may do ‘trip’ events.

Say a high-speed edge condition takes out the fuse box. And with the fuse box [destroyed], do you have enough capacitance to command a [airbag] deployment? Those type of things are not understood by a traditional crash test. So, this is looking at the past. What happens today that results in a negative outcome, and then how do you improve on it for the future with robust designs. Do you have backup systems? Do you have capacitant power [in a crash] for a certain amount of time, an energy reserve? That type of thing. And unless you try those things and explore it, you don't understand it.

How important is this facility to EV testing? Because there's a lot that's still not known about EVs?

Exactly. Lithium-ion batteries have their own quirkiness. We're going to have a battery lab here, and an outdoor battery pad; we're going to explore the limits of battery systems. We'll likely combine some of the battery tests with the field-crash lab as well. And cycling systems — introducing flaws into batteries, how do they behave as you overload them — is important. Then having the ability to tear them down and understand the details of the quality challenges. We're building it, we're going to hire the engineers and we're going to try to learn. Our future is EVs and EVs will be a big, big part of our STIL.

Actual regulatory crash testing for Hyundai – is that all engaged in South Korea?

The development work and DV validation is done in South Korea. And the pre-production cars are shipped here; we crash-test them typically at MGA [Research Corp.] or Calspan in the U.S. These are approved test laboratories; we ensure we have crash test data from U.S.-based facility. So, a lot of the development is done in South Korea, but the final validation is here.

What is your background? Are you a mechanical engineer?

I'm from Canada originally. I'm American now. I have a Bachelor’s in mechanical engineering and I have a Master's in mechanical as well, with the major in biomechanics. I specialized in occupant injuries, injury trauma. I went to Wayne State [University] under Dr. Albert King, where the Hybrid III crush dummy was created.