Swedish automaker Volvo welcomed the media to its stand on the second day of the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) January 11 not to show a pristine new model - but a vehicle that had been in a crash.

The crumpled C30 Electric was Volvo's way of proving that electric cars, very much the theme of this year's NAIAS, are as safe as their electric counterparts, even when involved in a head-on collision.

To test its theory, Volvo crashed the C30 into a barrier at 64 km/h to ensure that the vehicle responded as safely as a conventional vehicle would, despite having a 300 kg battery and a 400 volt electrical system.

It says that the battery and shielded cables remained intact, as they should have done, thanks to the positioning of the battery pack, which is in the "safe zone" normally occupied by fuel tanks - well away from any crumple zones.

It also said that reinforcing the front crumple zone, which normally holds a large, fairly solid engine but contains a far smaller motor in electric vehicles, is another challenge.

Despite this, "the test produced exactly the results we expected," explained Volvo's Jan Ivarsson.

"The C30 Electric offers the very same high safety level as a C30 with a combustion engine. The front deformed and distributed the crash energy as we expected. Both the batteries and the cables that are part of the electric system remained entirely intact after the collision."

Volvo's unusual NAIAS display highlights an area which is becoming increasingly important - how electric vehicles need to be made as safe as conventional cars in the event of a crash, despite having fundamentally different designs and technologies.

Last year, General Motors began training "first responders" - fire crews and other emergency services - in the approach which needed to be taken in the event that one of its Chevrolet Volt electric vehicles was involved in an accident.

New procedures likely to be required include shutting down the power supply to minimise risks to rescuers, disabling airbag systems and how to deal with the battery packs, which can explode when exposed to high temperatures.

"Technological changes in the automotive industry require changes in fire and emergency service operations as well," said a spokesman for the International Association of Fire Chiefs at the time.

The North American International Auto Show is open to the public January 15 - 23 in Detroit, Michigan.


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