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Slimmer Commodore windscreen pillars coming

words - Joe Kenwright
After Holden cut driver vision for extra crash safety, Holden is putting it back

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There is hardly a test report about a VE Commodore or its many derivatives that doesn't contain a critical reference to the overly thick windscreen pillars which can hide a pedestrian or motorcyclist or even a car in a roundabout. That could be about to change.

After Holden boosted A-pillar thickness and strength in its billion dollar baby to meet high internal crash standards, Holden has been forced to respond to suggestions that they are too thick and could play a role in causing a crash.

Holden is believed to be looking at a number of solutions that won't reduce crash strength for introduction at the VE's first major upgrade.

It is now known that the VE's thick A-pillars had their internal opponents including Holden's most senior engineers, right up until the VE was launched last year.

The standard Holden line to such criticism still is that the thick pillars were vital in achieving the VE's strong crash safety, a big theme of the VE series launch. While there can be no doubt that extra crash strength drove the extra thickness, it is not the full story.

BMW and Honda achieve similar crash safety in their big cars with slimmer, chamfered windscreen pillars that don't impinge on driver vision as much as the VE Commodore. It is believed that the VE's windscreen pillars were thickened up in the tooling phase after the bottom line didn't extend to the expensive boron steels increasingly used in this application.

In simplistic terms, Holden's engineers were forced to use more normal steel to replicate the strength of the boron steel. Compounding the extra thickness of the VE pillars is the cabin's new architecture which places the windscreen pillars and mirrors well forward of the driver within the main field of vision, not at the periphery. For tall drivers, even the roof can get in the way.

When the architecture of the roofline and the doors is the most expensive part of the car to re-tool (just ask Ford after the company was stuck with the AU Falcon's oddball door apertures and header rails), the options open to Holden engineers are limited.

For example, the latest Toyota Corolla, which features thick windscreen pillars with similar placement to the VE Commodore, separates the door opening and mirrors from the base of the windscreen and adds an extra triangle of glass at the base. Such a huge change is not realistic for the VE Commodore.

Given that the VE door openings will need to stay the same, Holden will almost certainly be forced to build slimmer new A-pillars from stronger steel and angle them so that they present less flat area to the driver similar to the latest BMW X5 and Honda Legend. Vision can then be further enhanced by creating more of a gap between the mirror and the windscreen pillar. Reliable sources have confirmed that this process is currently underway.

However, it won't happen any time soon when even this solution is going to be expensive. Because it will involve a major re-style, it may not be seen until 2009 unless consumer reaction to the current design seriously impacts on sales.

There are those long term Holden employees who view the current situation with some irony when Holden was once a pioneer in forward vision for family cars with its HQ Holden design in 1971. Cleverly angled away from the driver, the HQ's windscreen pillars presented barely a width of a finger to the driver. Even this was negligible after a curved windscreen then located the pillars well to the side of the driver's main forward vision.

In a wider context, the VE's current situation raises some important safety questions about where to draw the line if certain crash safety requirements start to increase the likelihood of a crash.

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Published : Sunday, 4 November 2007

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