An Automotive News report has revealed that Ford designed the SuperCrew version of its new F-150 pickup with extra structural elements conceived to improve the truck’s performance in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) small-overlap frontal offset crash test.

When testing pickups, the IIHS usually only crash tests the most popular body style, that being the SuperCrew in the F-150’s case. The story here–and it’s an eyebrow-raiser–is that it seems Ford designed the SuperCrew to ace the challenging small-overlap test and earn top marks for its popular pickup even though the lower-volume regular cab and SuperCab models may not protect occupants as effectively. As a result, the IIHS has conducted a second crash test on a SuperCab model to see just how much the SuperCrew’s reinforced structure affected the truck’s crash test performance.

It’s worth noting that the IIHS had not yet released the results of its initial F-150 crash test, and those results will now be delayed until July to include data from the second test.

The news report has prompted the IIHS to conduct a research study to find out whether other automakers are effectively rigging vehicles to pass specific crash tests.

When we toured the IIHS headquarters in Ruckersville, VA in May, our tourguide, engineer Raul Arbelaez, suggested that automakers do design vehicles to improve their crash test performance, but the impression was that those structural elements are typically applied across model ranges, and not just to specific versions as it appears Ford has done with the F-150. Because the frontal offset tests are all done on the driver’s side of the vehicle, a manufacturer only interested in the appearance of crash safety could install extra structural parts on that side of the car, something that Arbelaez suggested isn’t out of the question: he said the IIHS’ limited resources (that being a relative term, as it’s funded by what we imagine is a very profitable U.S. insurance industry) prevents the organization from being as thorough as they might like to be.

For Ford’s part, a spokesperson says “We optimize each cab structure based on many factors including cab style, mass, wheelbase, powertrain and driveline to meet regulatory requirements and achieve public domain ratings.” That sounds like a soft answer to a hard question, and we’re looking forward to what the IIHS’ tests reveal about the differences between the different F-150 models.

2015 Ford F-150

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