Chinese cars used to have a reputation of being under-engineered and unsafe but this has changed dramatically in recent years and now there are plenty of safe cars coming out of the People’s Republic. Well, they’re safer than they used to be, anyway, but are these vehicles safe enough to be sold (and be successful) in Europe, as well as other more developed markets?
Aiways is planning to launch its U5 all-electric crossover in Europe (in April of this year), so the vehicle had to be tested by Euro NCAP in order for its safety credentials to be gauged. The organization put the U5 through its usual battery of tests and by the end it was only able to award it a mediocre three-star rating.
What kept it from achieving the maximum five-star result was a very poor showing in both the side impact and side pole impact tests. Further points were detracted for its autonomous emergency braking system which doesn’t see pedestrians or cyclists. Euro NCAP gave it an adult occupant safety rating of 73 percent and a safety assist score of 55 percent.
Now the Shanghai-based automaker has put out a press release specifically aimed at discussing the car’s safety. Its main points are that it “offers outstanding safety features, in a package accessible to all,” that its structure very strong and that its battery pack “provides unprecedented levels of thermal safety.”
Aiways says it has addressed some of the concerns highlighted by the European safety tests. The software that controls the airbag deployment timing has been updated, but it makes no mention about adding pedestrian and cyclist detection into the car’s AEB system - the car does have a plethora of sensors and high-definition cameras all around, so maybe the AEB will be enhanced through future software updates.
The manufacturer also reiterates just how strong the U5 SUV’s body really is, stating that its structure is made of 52 percent aluminum and 48 percent high-strength steel and that this makes it “four times stronger than conventional high-strength steel.” Regarding the power storage solution, it points out that its “sandwich” structure battery pack is the first of its kind in any current production car.
Gallery: Aiways U5 - Euro NCAP Safety Tests (2019)
They call it that because it has an extra layer of isolation between the battery modules and the cooling plate. The company says this setup improves the battery pack safety (lower risk of catching fire) - its construction also means there is zero chance that coolant could ever come into contact with the actual battery cells.
AIWAYS all-electric U5: technology engineered for safety
• U5 offers outstanding safety features, in a package accessible to all
• U5 made from steel four times stronger than conventional high-strength steel
• The ‘sandwich’ battery pack provides unprecedented levels of thermal safety
AIWAYS, the Shanghai-based personal mobility provider, has engineered its all-electric U5 SUV to meet the very high safety standards expected by European customers when the car is made available in April this year. As well as a highly robust body structure, the U5 incorporates a battery with a unique safety-focused design as well as a range of advanced active safety technologies.
With AIWAYS set to become the first Chinese startup to enter the European car market, a dedicated team of 20 engineers has worked tirelessly to develop and enhance the U5’s safety credentials ahead of the car’s launch.
As well as many thousands of computer-simulated crash tests, 28 U5s have been crashed during tests at third-party facilities in China and Europe over the last year. This rigorous development program has resulted in an all-electric mid-size SUV that offers outstanding crash-worthiness, in a package accessible to all.
AIWAYS Chief Technical Officer Winter Wang commented: “Developing the required levels of safety is one of the biggest priorities and challenges for any new vehicle startup. In developing the U5 we have engaged experienced automotive safety specialists with a profound understanding of the quality and protection levels needed to be successful in global markets. The U5 offers safety excellence in a package that we think will appeal to everyone.”
Ready for Europe
Safety testing was part of the U5’s European homologation process, with AIWAYS successfully achieving certification in September 2019. With the support of independent test provider TÜV Rheinland, the U5 passed all safety aspects, including pedestrian protection and frontal and side collision occupant protection.
The AIWAYS U5 became the first electric vehicle from a Chinese startup to be tested by Euro NCAP in December 2019, achieving three stars. NCAP found the U5 to be structurally safe, and AIWAYS has addressed and resolved the other issues highlighted in the testing.
Specifically, AIWAYS has updated software that controls the timing of airbag deployment, offering greater occupant protection in the event of a severe side-on collision.
AIWAYS will continue to focus on and enhance its safety credentials and expects the U5 to be among the safest mid-size SUVs available when it goes on sale in Europe in April this year.
U5 body structure at the heart of AIWAYS safety
At the heart of the AIWAYS safety ethos is the U5’s unique and innovative body structure. Developed by the AIWAYS engineering teams in China, the car's body in white (BIW) uses a 52% aluminum and 48% high-strength steel mix. The steel used is extremely strong – around four times stronger than conventional high-strength steel.
Pioneering bonding, casting and forming techniques make the chassis around 50% stiffer than equivalent steel construction. Innovative techniques like flow drill screw-driving (FDS) and self-piercing riveting (SPR) allow AIWAYS to safely bond steel and aluminum together.
The combination of the 2000 MPa high-strength steel and aluminum employed in the U5 body structure results in a significantly safer passenger compartment. Furthermore, the U5 has been engineered to efficiently disperse and absorb energy in the event of a collision to reduce the potential impact on vehicle occupants and pedestrians.
Aluminum high pressure die casting allows AIWAYS to reduce part count, saving time and development cost. It also creates a lighter and more rigid overall construction. The result is a vehicle with a curb weight of 1,750 kg – much lighter than other mid-size SUVs despite the 360kg, 65kWh battery.
Unprecedented battery protection
The battery in the U5 is the first of its kind in the world, thanks to a state-of-the-art ‘sandwich’ structure battery pack. Developed and manufactured by AIWAYS using proven CATL cells, the sandwich battery structure gets its name from the multi-layer protection separating dry and wet areas within the cell.
The ‘sandwich’ structure differs from traditional automotive battery packs in that it adds an isolation plate between the battery module and the cooling plate. The principal benefit of this arrangement is that it dramatically improves vehicle safety and battery stability by ensuring efficient cooling and preheating.
The separation also means that it is impossible for leaking coolant to enter the battery module, even following a substantial impact. This avoids the risk of fire or explosion caused by a short circuit.
To further improve safety, a shock protection space is also incorporated into the sandwich design. A 15mm space separates the bottom of the battery pack plate and the battery module. It gives the battery module an additional layer of protection in the event of an impact, reducing the risk of damage.
Level 2 autonomy improves active safety
The U5 is fitted with 22 sensors, 12 ultrasonic radars, five high-definition cameras and three millimeter-wave radars to provide Level 2 autonomy and real-time analysis of external traffic conditions. The data collected is used by the U5’s advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) to improve safety and give occupants total peace of mind.
A lane departure warning system not only warns the driver if they are about to stray from their lane but also makes small adjustments to the steering if the driver does not respond to the warning. Above speeds of 60km/h (37mph), the AIWAYS U5 uses an automated system to remain in the middle of the lane.
To further reduce the risk of collision, the U5 is fitted with a blind spot warning system, alerting the driver when a vehicle or cyclist is passing alongside the vehicle. A Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA) system warns the driver when a vehicle is about to pass behind the U5.
AIWAYS has equipped the U5 with Auto Emergency Braking (AEB), which automatically applies the car’s brakes when a pedestrian, cyclist or vehicle passes in front of the car. This works alongside a cyclist warning system that alerts occupants if they are in danger of opening their door into the path of a passing cyclist.
For added convenience, the AIWAYS U5 is offered with Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), which not only maintains a safe space to the vehicle in front but can also bring the vehicle to a halt when traffic ahead stops. Intelligent High Beam Control (IHBC) automatically operates the vehicle’s high-beam headlights while the U5’s Parking Assistant system is another practical addition, automatically maneuvering the vehicle into a parking space at the touch of a button.