Fleet News

No rest for Renault in drive to top vehicle safety stakes

RENAULT invests Euro 100million into safety research and development every year and this massive investment is paying dividends and providing a wake-up call for fleets.

The French manufacturer is the only car company to have five of its vehicles achieve top marks in Euro NCAP's crash tests, with the Laguna, Megane, Vel Satis, Espace and Scenic all securing the coveted five stars.

And at a time when safety issues are at the forefront of fleet decision-makers' minds, Renault's investment could pay off as companies put increasing onus on driver safety.

'We are trying to push fleets to be more safety conscious all the time. Cars such as the Laguna and the Espace are five-star rated and we are constantly developing products to be safer, not just to meet regulations and testing standards, but also to provide safer vehicles in the real world,' said a Renault spokesman.

Asked what safety features Euro NCAP should focus on next, the spokesman said more tests needed to be completed on car-to-car impacts.

He said: 'We test a car hitting a wall but the impact between two cars and the compactivity of two cars is very different. More needs to be done on this. It is a good idea to improve the protection when large cars impact with small cars.'

Euro NCAP aims to offer an independent assessment of the safety performance of some of the most popular cars sold in Europe and is used as a benchmark by an increasing number of fleets when selecting vehicles.

However, the spokesman stressed that achieving high Euro NCAP awards was not the manufacturer's priority. 'Euro NCAP is a good way to put pressure on the industry but it is not Renault's priority – safety for all our drivers is our priority,' he said.

As the impending legislation on corporate manslaughter draws closer, the onus on fleets to provide safer vehicles is becoming more important.

'Safety is starting to climb the ladder for fleets and people are now selecting Renaults for safety reasons. In the future it could be possible that all fleets will have to have vehicles with four or five-star ratings,' he added.

Despite already having five five-star cars, Renault is pushing forward with passive and active safety systems, and not just for passengers. It is developing a system that will protect pedestrians involved in a collision.

The spokesman added: 'We are working on a design which will provide a gap between the engine and the bonnet, enabling the bonnet to slide. If you can move the bonnet, it reduces the energy on impact.'

Renault is also developing four new safety concepts – pre-crash, interval aid, brake-by-wire and active steering systems, although they are at least two years from production.

Active steering system

What is it? Active steering supplements the electronic stability programme (ESP) and enables drivers to stop in emergencies with minimum skidding.
How does it work? In an emergency, sensors from the wheel send data to a computer which decides how much steering movement should be applied, how much control is needed and at what angle the wheels should be. An electronic motor corrects the steering angle and deals with the problem before ESP is activated.
If a vehicle is on a wet or uneven road, the active steering also enables the vehicle to remain in a straight line if the brakes are applied in an emergency.

Following interval aid system

What is it? The system alerts drivers if they are too close to the vehicle in front, aiming to reduce nose-to-tail collisions.
How does it work? A sensor maps how far the vehicle in front is. Data is then analysed by an on-board computer, including the speed and following distance. If the vehicle is too close, the computer transmits a message to the accelerator, which makes it physically more difficult to press. If the distance between the two vehicles is more than two seconds apart, the system remains inactive. Between one and two seconds, pressure is added to the accelerator pedal and less than one second additional pressure is placed on the accelerator. A visual display on the dash and an audio alarm also alerts drivers that they are too close. If drivers need to deactivate the system, to overtake for example, they can push firmly on the accelerator pedal.

Brake-by-wire system

What is it? A computerised braking system which can anticipate emergency braking before it occurs, providing individual braking for each wheel when cornering or on low grip roads.
How does it work? The mechanical braking system is replaced with a computerised one that analyses the distance, effort and speed which the pedal is pressed.
The computer can tell if the foot moves from the accelerator to the brake pedal quickly and can apply a pre-braking force. Depending on the speed the brake pedal is pressed activates appropriate braking. When braking on a corner, the system analyses the grip on each tyre and distributes braking effort to each individual wheel. The brake load can also be adapted to road conditions such as city or motorway driving, altering the travel and braking point needed.

Pre-crash system

What is it? Pre-crash systems can sense if a vehicle is about to crash, and automatically activate safety devices a second before the impact.
How does it work? A radar or on-board sensor detects an obstacle on the road, even if the driver is not aware of it. Information from the sensor is transmitted to a computer, which analyses the approaching speed and angle at which the vehicle will impact. The computer gets the vehicle ready for impact and activates safety devices such as airbags, or applies the brakes if necessary. Renault says sensors fitted to the inside of the cabin could map the position of passengers before an impact to help the computer decide which safety systems to activate and ensure that passengers not seated in a normal position (for example leaning over to the back seat) are better protected.

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