A recent study showed that crash barriers on highways were no match for large electric models. Increasingly heavier, electric SUVs and pick-ups are worrying road safety experts.
A Rivian R1T explodes a guardrail
Some new electric models weigh very heavy. This is an increasingly frequent criticism. And for good reason. Here are some examples: the Kia EV9 weighs 2,569 kg, the Peugeot e-3008 announces 2,198 kg or the Volvo EX90 is 2,811 kg. Without forgetting the Tesla Cybertruck which weighs 3,104 kg in its Cyberbeast version! Engineers from the road safety centerUniversity of Nebraska conducted a crash test to determine how a guardrail could withstand the heaviest electric vehicles.
The test was carried out last fall. Engineers watched as an electric pickup truck barreled toward a guardrail installed at the center’s testing ground on the edge of the local municipal airport. A 2022 Rivian R1T, weighing almost 4 tons, went through the metal guardrail. “ He never slowed down before hitting a concrete barrier », Explain the teams. With a vehicle like this, a guardrail therefore has no impact on the safety of passengers or pedestrians.
Electric SUVs too heavy?
« We knew this would be an extremely demanding test for the road safety system said Cody Stolle, member of the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility from the University of Nebraska. The crash barriers were not designed to retain vehicles weighing more than 3 tonnes. The fact that cars weigh this much could not have been imagined just a few years ago. The team specifies that this problem already arose in the 1990s. At that time, more and more Americans began to buy pickup trucks.
But in the 1990s, pickups and SUVs represented only 10 to 15% of the vehicle fleet in the United States. Today we are more around 50%. In 2023, the National Transportation Safety Board, an agency responsible for investigating certain types of road accidents, has sounded the alarm about the growing weight of electric vehicles. The agency expressed its fears about “ safety risks posed by heavy electric vehicles in the event of a collision with lighter vehicles ».
Drivers in danger
If these vehicles do indeed offer protection to their occupants, the same is not true for those who find themselves facing them. A problem also raised on the Tesla Cybertruck due to the rigidity of its stainless steel and the sharp edges of its body. Tesla’s electric pickup could cause major damage. In their test, engineers at the University of Nebraska found that the Rivian R1T had virtually “no not suffered any damage internally, after hitting the concrete barrier ».
But the primary purpose of guardrails is to prevent vehicles from leaving the roadway. Particularly on bridges, cliff edges and rocky terrain, where the risk of injury and death in the event of an off-road accident is much higher. If an electric SUV is capable of ramming the slide, its driver is obviously in danger. The high weight regularly pointed out on electric models comes from the batteries, which are sometimes oversized.
Is the Tesla Cybertruck a dangerous vehicle?
A real problem with electric acceleration
A large battery can weigh as much as a small gasoline car. Some batteries are even more expensive than small city cars. This is the case of the huge battery of the RAM 1,500 EV which costs 25,000 euros. Electric vehicles typically weigh 20-50% more than gasoline vehicles. Further trials on a larger number of electric vehicles are planned and “ will be necessary to determine the design of new slides ”, according to the engineers.
« Currently, electric vehicles represent around 10% of new vehicles sold [aux USA], which gives us a little time. But as electrics gain popularity, the subject of slide resistance will become more acute. It is therefore urgent to tackle this problem », specifies Cody Stolle. Generally speaking, road safety experts are calling for greater collaboration between transportation engineers and automakers.
While some people think that the high weight of electric cars is not a problem in itself, we have just seen that it can pose safety problems. Never have there been so many heavy cars on our roads. This study on the resistance of slideways is in line with what many experts have been saying for several years now: we must reduce the weight of electric vehicles. This is also true because a large electric SUV consumes 3 times more copper and aluminum and 5 times more lithium, nickel and cobalt than a small electric city car. Moreover, in France, around fifty models weighing more than 1,900 kilos risk being assigned a “ mass penalty » from 2025.
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