75 years ago: Dawn of the crash test era at Audi

The subcompact DKW F7 rolled down a hill in Golm, near Potsdam, in late 1938. The engineers used a ramp to roll the car over as a demonstration of the car’s safety and stability. In front of astonished spectators and a camera, the subcompact car rolled multiple times before coming to a stop with the engine still running and the body virtually undamaged. This event marked the dawn of crash testing at Audi and further innovations in the area of automotive safety.

Among the milestones is the development of crumple zones to reduce the risk of injury to the driver and passengers. A 1958 NSU Prinz, for example, was already able to absorb a good portion of the energy from a front-end collision in the crumple zone. The development of the NSU Ro 80 and the first Audi 100 beginning in the late 1960s marked the first use of dummies to analyze the effects of an accident on the human body.

To make the results of a crash even more reproducible, Audi inaugurated the first crash testing hall at Ingolstadt in 1970. Modified numerous times, it is still in use today. Measurements became more and more precise over time, and this together with the use of camera technology in crash research enabled even better analysis of a car’s weaknesses. One patented Audi innovation from this period was the “Procon-ten” system (programmed contraction and tension). In a frontal collision, the steering wheel was pulled back and the front seatbelts tensioned by means of the displacement of the engine toward the passenger compartment via a system of steel cables and deflection pulleys. Introduced in 1986, the system significantly reduced the driver’s risk of head injury and was only discontinued after the introduction of airbags in all models.

In addition to crashes under laboratory conditions, an increasing amount of data from real-world accidents were incorporated into development efforts beginning in the mid-1990s. Audi established a separate department for accident research, the AARU (Audi Accident Research Unit), in 1998, which has grown steadily ever since. In collaboration with doctors at the University of Regensburg, the AARU analyzes accident data and identifies optimization potential for new models.

The number of Audi models is growing steadily. Body structures have also become increasingly complex over the years. Crash simulations are therefore now an indispensable part of model development. Whether pedestrian accidents, frontal or side-impact collisions: Virtually all types of accidents can be simulated today. More than 200 specialists at Audi are working solely on these topics. Each month, they perform some 20,000 crash simulations, often as much as two years before the first prototypes are even built. 

Audi models are among the world’s safest cars. The brand with the four rings offers a comprehensive package of active and passive safety features in the compact class, too. The Audi A3, for instance, is available with active lane assist, multicollision brake assist and pre sense front. The latter system uses active braking to reduce the impact speed in the event of an accident, thus substantially reducing accident severity or, at lower speeds, preventing accidents altogether. The Audi A3 received the honor “Euro NCAP advanced” four times in 2012, in part for these active safety systems.