Volt, Leaf earn top saftey marks

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The Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf can now add top safety picks to their growing list of accolades as both electric cars earned high marks from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The results, released today by the IIHS, show both EVs scored well in front, side and rear-impact crashes as well as rollover crash protection.

This is the first-ever test of mainstream EVs (the Leaf is all-electric while the Volt does have a small gas engine) by the research group.

Though both units are technically small cars, the heavy battery components pushed them near the large sedan weight class.

“What powers the wheels is different, but the level of safety for the Volt and Leaf is as high as any of our other top crash test performers,'' said Joe Nolan, the institute's chief administrative officer.

The dual-power Volt and all-electric Leaf not only surpass benchmarks for protecting occupants in crashes but also exceed current fuel efficiency and emissions standards.

Both models are brand new for 2011.

The Volt is a plug-in battery/gasoline hybrid that can run in electric-only mode with a range of about 35 miles on a single charge. A gasoline engine kicks in to power the electric motor when the battery is spent. The Leaf runs on battery power alone and has an Environmental Protection Agency-estimated average range of about 73 miles on a single charge

“The way an electric or hybrid model earns top crash test ratings is the same way any other car does,” Nolan added. “Its structure must manage crash damage so the occupant compartment stays intact and the safety belts and airbags keep people from hitting hard surfaces in and out of the vehicle.”