Alf Persson – Saab’s most expensive employee ever

This is not a new story. It’s an old Saab press release from April 2001.
The reason why I’m posting it here now is twofold. First, it’s an interesting story in itself. But more than that, I’ve got some photos and words about what Alf persson is doing now.
I’ll post those shortly, but in the meantime I hope you enjoy learning a little about Alf’s former job as the head of the Saab crash test lab.
Alf Persson, 47, is by far the most expensive of the more than 10 000 employees at Saab Automobile. During the past 12 years, he has cost the company more than half a billion kronor (SEK 500 000 000), salary and oncosts excluded. But this extravagance is by no means due to his negligence. On the contrary, it is the result of him being very efficient and careful. Alf Persson is the Work Supervisor at the Saab Crash Test Laboratory.
Alf Persson.jpg “This is the price we pay for taking crashworthiness seriously. We never rest on our laurels. On average, we crash one car every other day to make sure the safety of our cars will keep on improving. There are no shortcuts to the standard of safety that Saab cars provide,” says Alf.
Saab crash tests tripled in ten years
Alf Persson began his crash tester career in 1989, and has so far been involved in demolishing more than 1500 cars. In addition, he has run more than 1000 sled tests on sub-systems, such as units consisting of seat and door side. The crash test programme at Saab has grown dramatically since Alf began working at the crash track.
“When developing the second generation of the Saab 900 in the early 1990s, we ran 19 different types of crash test. Nine of these were stipulated by legal requirements. In the work on todayÕs Saab 9-5, we ran more than 60 different crash tests. During the same period, the number of legally required crash tests had risen by 3 to a total of 12.”
The reason for this substantial increase in the number of crash tests at Saab is obviously the need for simulating the sequence of events in real-life road accidents. To be able to build cars with ever-improving safety, the crash tests must be continually developed. But is it really necessary to run expensive crash tests even with all of the sophisticated computer simulation facilities available today?

“The deformation of the body structure when subjected to a certain load can be simulated relatively accurately. But it is much more difficult to simulate sufficiently reliably the movements of the occupants inside the car following a crash. The movements of the dummies and the injury values they record are best ascertained in actual crash tests,” explains Alf, and continues:
“Our work on developing crashworthiness has three cornerstones. One of these is crash testing, the second is early computer simulation that gives us quick a means for establishing the right concept and being able to run more accurate tests, and the third consists of studies of real-life road accidents. Accident studies can be used to demonstrate how the car and all of its protective systems perform in reality, and they also give us valuable information on the order of priority of accident types for which test methods must be developed.”
Pole crash test based on reality
“A test method that has been developed on the basis of experience gained from accident studies is the pole crash test that we run both head-on and against the side of the car. This is a type of crash that we have found to be relatively common and that involves only parts of the body structure, which causes the impact to be more concentrated to just one area,” describes Alf.
Another, more familiar Saab test is the moose crash test. In Sweden, an average of more than ten collisions between cars and moose occur every day. Since the early 1990s, Saab has therefore been running a crash test in its ordinary range of tests in which the car travelling at 70 km/h collides with a 380 kg moose dummy. Saab began developing the moose crash test together with the Swedish Road and Transport Research Institute (VTI) back in 1981 and is now evolving, still with the VTI, a new version of the “moose”.
Saab tests always stricter
The demands in the in-house Saab tests are always stricter than the legal requirements. An example is the testing of the seat belt system in which a heavier dummy (101 kg instead of 78 kg) and a softer seat are used in the in-house Saab R16 test than those in the legally stipulated ECE R16 test. This results in more deflection of the seat, which causes more slack in the seat belt. Together with the heavier dummy, this causes higher and more convincing loading on the seat belt.
One of the more spectacular crash tests that Alf was involved in running was a roll-over test performed in 1990 on a Saab 9000 CS in the 7 metre wide and 3.5 metre high tunnel leading up to the crash barrier.
“We were in the course of developing a test method for roll-over accidents. The car stood on a sled that we accelerated up to almost 50 km per hour before tipping the car. It did three and a half somersaults and ended up on its roof. While doing this, it tore down a camera that was mounted in the roof of the tunnel, but the test was otherwise successful.”
The test led to one of the roll-over test methods used by Saab today. It was, however, never repeated in the tunnel. When the Saab 9000 CS was launched in 1992, it had a substantially strengthened C pillar section, which resulted in the best-ever roll-over protection in a Saab car up to that date.

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