If a major automaker needs to perform 16 crash tests for their new $25,000 sedan they can crash 16 cars and only lose $400,000 worth of product. For a company like Koenigsegg, 16 cars is a year’s worth of production and a $30 million loss. Imagine if Toyota had to crash 900,000 cars every time they came out with a new generation of Toyota Camry.
“It’s really hard to see how the car is slowly being destroyed–hammer[ing] it, over-torquing it, and then finally crashing it against a wall… it’s painful, painful to watch,” says David Tugas, the manager responsible for making sure Koenigsegg’s cars comply with the laws of different regions, which includes submitting them to various torture tests.
While there are plenty of unintentional accidents caught on camera, you don’t see many videos of intentional supercar and hypercar crashes because the companies behind those cars rarely share them and groups that do their own independent crash testing, like the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, don’t have an incentive to test cars that so few people buy. For instance, the most expensive car the IIHS has crashed is a 2014 Maserati Ghibli.
There’s something simultaneously alluring and horrifying watching the car in the video get driven into massive depressions and banged on with hammers, but building cars so they protect the occupants in a crash is much more than an engineering challenge. Automotive standards are not universal and what regulators in America think is “safe” might be unacceptable to a European, or vice versa.
“Some developing markets are focused on basic crashworthiness standards because some of their cars didn’t have airbags until recently,” says Russ Rader, Senior VP of Communications at the IIHS.
This is a problem for carmakers both large and small as much of the world uses the European standard (called the ECE) while Canada and the United States require automakers to comply with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (or FMVSS).
Some of the differences seem trivial or amusing, such as the perplexing difference in how much of the windshield each regulatory body thinks a windshield wiper should cover. There are also larger and more philosophical disagreements over how to prioritize safety that require automakers to spend more time and money developing and crashing their cars.
Arguably the biggest disagreement between the ECE and the FMVSS is how they treat airbags. In Sweden, 97% of all occupants wear seatbelts when driving in a caraccording to the World Health Organization. The same study shows that 14% of occupants in the United States neglect to wear a seatbelt at all times. This has led the FMVSS to require automakers to use airbags that will protect unbelted passengers while the ECE, reasonably, assumes occupants will keep their seatbelts on all the time.
Almost as important as designing airbags that can deploy in a serious accident are making ones that won’t go off accidentally in a low-speed collision or in other situations, like if someone drops a heavy tire in the trunk. That’s why in the video above you’ll see a lot of hammering at various parts of the Koenigsegg Regera.
Crash testing, then, requires not only building a safe car, but building a car that is “safe” according to the different priorities and requirements of the two major regulatory bodies. For most automakers, this means extensive computer simulation followed by the crashing of multiple vehicles. For reasons of both logistics and cost it’s not feasible for Koenigsegg to build and crash Regera after Regera, so the company built one model and has continued to use the same basic car in numerous crash tests.
That this is possible is partially due to the nature of the Regera’s construction. While your average Chrysler 200 isn’t going to be able to be easily rebuilt after a crash, all new Koenigsegg’s use a carbon fiber monocoque with an aluminum honeycomb core structure similar to what’s used in Formula One racing. These are designed to withstand enormous forces, as journalist Sean Evans found out when the McLaren he was riding in was driven off the side of a mountain in California and he walked away with few injuries.
Koenigsegg claims the Regera’s monocoque offers 65,000 Nm-per-degree of torsional rigidity (a measure of how much the vehicle will flex under force), compared to a vehicle like the BMW X6, which is built using a mixture of steel, aluminum, and thermoplastic and is rated for 29,000 NM-per-degree (a number that’s still a great achievement and advancement over cars even ten years older).
Starting with this extremely strong core allows Koenigsegg to construct pieces around it, such as bumpers and crash members, that can be damage tested and then replaced with new pieces so that more tests can be performed.
“It’s cheaper to rebuild and repair and keep smashing the same car,” explains company founder Christian von Koenigsegg. “That’s of course in a way more difficult because it needs to take multiple hits, but we designed for that and it saves us both time and money and resources.”
ABOUT THIS SERIES
APEX.one is devoted to in-depth, long-form coverage of the most exciting stories in transportation and this series is part of our experimental storytelling approach. We've been filming the development of new Koenigsegg products for 8 years and over the next few months we'll be periodically releasing videos that tell the story of how we got here. Stay tuned.