Stuck firmly believes that this kind of training can also benefit “seasoned drivers.” Such as 70-year-old Sebastian Hollweck, who sits beside Fischer smiling, feeling perfectly at home among the youngsters with their gelled hair. Hollweck and Fischer both hail from Pfaffenhofen in Upper Bavaria. The younger man sells windows for his father’s company, while his senior counterpart is a ski instructor – as well as being a longstanding Golf driver who owned the original GTI back in the late 1970s. Since then, he has only missed out on one model generation and was ideally positioned to witness the continual improvements in safety that came with each new GTI model.
ALL IMPORTANT SAFETY FEATURES AS STANDARD
What seemed unthinkable back then is now standard: Small cars like the Polo are also equipped with active safety systems such as ABS and ESP. It goes without saying that Volkswagen is actively involved in developing and applying technologies that help to avoid accidents. “We want to penetrate the market as far as possible with our assistance systems,” says Dr. Torsten Strutz, Head of Vehicle Safety at Volkswagen.
ESP CUTS ACCIDENT FIGURES
“Passive” safety systems are already subject to extremely high safety standards. “At this stage, only minor improvements can be achieved with airbags or seatbelts,” believes Hubert Paulus, a safety expert at German automobile club ADAC. However, by equipping all existing vehicles with ESP, 40 percent of serious accidents could be avoided: “Volkswagen sets a good example here,” emphasizes Paulus.
The safety expert also expects to see substantial improvements in the future as a result of automatic distance control and emergency braking systems. Volkswagen is the first manufacturer to offer “ACC” and “Front Assist” technologies in the mid-range segment. Today, the Passat CC already boasts virtually all assistance systems that are available, and its electronic eye can detect the lane and gently counteract any driving errors. With its rear-view camera, the car can also monitor the area behind it and is even able to park on its own. With, of course, the driver in control behind the wheel at all times.
For GTI veteran Hollweck, this is exactly how it should be: “I enjoy sporty driving – and haven’t had an accident for 50 years.” He has come to Mühldorf to test the limits of his Golf. To his great surprise, the course begins with participants being shown how to sit properly: “A car seat is not an armchair,” says Stuck. The seat back should be straight, the driver’s legs should be bent and his or her arms never stretched out. “Even if some people think that it looks cool, you shouldn’t loll around behind the wheel – you want to be in control of the car!” Hollweck and Fischer listen in wonder. And then the coach calls them for the next exercise: emergency braking. His tip: “Brake pedal to the floor and keep your tongue safely inside your mouth!”
The engine roars across the empty runway. Then Fischer hits the gas, accelerates to 50 km/h, applies the brakes and lets the ABS kick in. “I like it,” says Hollweck and does the same again at 70 km/h. Taking turns, Hollweck and Fischer work their way up to 100 km/h. There is a smell of burnt rubber in the air, mostly thanks to Fischer’s no-holds-barred braking. “It is often the case that old-school drivers don’t brake firmly enough,” explains Stuck. But the younger driver is also impressed: “There is a hell of a difference between braking at 50 and braking at 100 km/h!” Even when vehicles are equipped with ACC and Front Assist, emergency braking is still only activated by the driver’s foot at the moment. This is set to change in the future with the addition of an active assistance system. “We want to use the existing sensor technology for new pre-crash functions,” explains Head of Volkswagen Vehicle Safety Strutz. If the car’s lasers and radars indicate that an accident is unavoidable, it tightens the seatbelts and closes the windows automatically. At the same time, it activates the “PyroBrake,” an emergency braking system with a pyrotechnic charge that is fired in the same way as an airbag and reacts within 80 milliseconds. “At an impact speed of 50 km/h, this can take away a fifth of the energy from the accident,” says Robert Zobel, Head of Volkswagen Accident Research. In this way, passive safety elements such as belts, brakes and airbags dovetail with the active assistance systems.