5 Things You Didn't Know About Automotive Testing


Regular Folks Are Testers, Too

A 1996 General Motors EV1 electric car is shown at the GM Heritage Center in Sterling Heights, Mich.
A 1996 General Motors EV1 electric car is shown at the GM Heritage Center in Sterling Heights, Mich.
AP Photo/Paul Sancya

When vehicle manufacturers have a radically different car that might make a significant impact on drivers' behavior, they'll recruit large testing groups from the general public. Having a diversity of people makes it more likely to expose the car to the types of strains and stressed it would receive if it was sold to the public. These studies, while large and expensive, help automakers determine the feasibility of certain cars as well as areas of improvement prior to making them available for sale in volume.

One of the better-known of these experiments was with General Motors's EV1, GM's infamous aborted experiment with electric vehicles. The drama was hashed out in the 2006 documentary film "Who Killed the Electric Car?" Starting in 1996, GM needed to know if the cars' performance would hold up to the needs of everyday car drivers. Did it accelerate fast enough to be compatible with driving on the highway? Would it go far enough not to strand drivers? Would drivers be willing to modify their driving to accommodate the limitations of the car? And it all boiled down to the one question, was there a big enough market to make production worthwhile? The many everyday individuals who had won slots to test GM's EV1 electric car (some for years) were aghast when they were informed that GM was canceling the program and destroying the cars.

On a more upbeat note, Nissan benefited from citizen testers' reports in 2009 and 2010, driving the all-electric LEAF. The company could provide estimates of how far the LEAF would go on a single battery charge. But only with real-world testing, by many people and under a range of conditions could the company get accurate numbers for what buyers can actually expect.

For some reason, most of us just can't avert our gaze from a car crash, whether it happened moments ago and is now a roadside spectacle, or if we're watching it as it happens. Then we feel bad about it. But there's a way you can watch car crashes guilt-free, too.