Indian cars fare poorly in safety-rating tests

Auto & Audio February 07, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

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The first-ever independent crash tests of some of India's popular small cars have shown a high risk of life threatening injuries in road crashes.

All the cars selected by UK-based nonprofit organisation Global NCAP for recent testing in a frontal impact at 64km/h received zero-star adult protection ratings. The models tested included India’s best-selling car, the Suzuki-Maruti Alto 800. The Tata Nano, Ford Figo, Hyundai i10 and Volkswagen Polo also underwent safety assessments. Combined sales of these five cars account for around 20 per cent of all new cars sold in India last year. 
Global NCAP chose the entry-level version of each model and as a result none were fitted with airbags as standard. The results highlight major differences in the structural integrity of the vehicles tested, Global NCAP chairman Max Mosley said. 
“India is now a major global market and production centre for small cars, so it’s worrying to see levels of safety that are 20 years behind the five-star standards now common in Europe and North America,” he said. “Poor structural integrity and the absence of airbags are putting the lives of Indian consumers at risk. They have a right to know how safe their vehicles are and to expect the same basic levels of safety as standard as customers in other part of the world.” 
In the Suzuki-Maruti Alto 800, the Tata Nano and the Hyundai i10, the vehicle structures proved inadequate and collapsed to varying degrees, resulting in high risks of life-threatening injuries to the occupants. 
The extent of the structural weaknesses in these models were such that fitting airbags would not be effective in reducing the risk of serious injury. 
The Ford Figo and Volkswagen Polo had structures that remained stable – and, therefore, with airbags fitted, protection for the driver and front passenger would be much improved. 
Coinciding with the Global NCAP tests, Volkswagen has decided to withdraw the non-airbag version of the Polo from sale in India. Because of this, Global NCAP agreed to a request from VW to assess a version of the Polo that has two airbags fitted as standard. The protection proved much better and this airbag-equipped model received a four-star rating for adult occupant protection. Consumers are, meanwhile, encouraged to check which version of the Polo they buy. 
Global NCAP also assessed the same models against the UN’s basic crash test. This frontal impact test at 56km/h is now widely applied by major manufacturing countries and regions including Australia, China, the European Union, Japan and Malaysia. 
The Global Plan for the UN’s Decade of Action for Road Safety recommends that all member states go according to this standard, although it is not yet applied in India. All but one of the cars tested failed to pass even this minimum standard. Taken together, the results highlight the vital combination of both sound structural integrity and airbags as standard equipment. These features are the sure way to exceed the minimum UN crash test standard at 56km/h. 
They also offer adequate levels of protection in a higher speed crash at 64km/h, the speed most commonly used by independent consumer crash-test programmes. 
“These results show that India would benefit enormously from the introduction of minimum crash safety standards and clearer information for consumers about the protection new cars offer,” said India’s Institute of Road Traffic Education president Rohit Baluja. 
“Many cars made in India for export meet these standards, so it’s not a question of know-how or capability: India’s automobile industry just needs the right incentives. With the UN’s minimum safety standards and clear information for consumers, India can produce cars that are every bit as good as those in Europe and the US,” he said. 
Global NCAP has awarded a separate child safety rating to each car to highlight the different levels of protection vehicles provide to passengers in rear seats. Because the only safe way for young children is to travel properly restrained in a child seat, the assessment checks how compatible the car is with child seats recommended by the manufacturer, as well as the protection provided in a crash. 
In the assessments, the child seats recommended by manufacturers were often found to be incompatible with their vehicle’s belt system. In the Tata Nano, there was no three-point seatbelt on the rear seats and no way to install a child seat or transport a small child safely. 
“Vehicle manufacturers understand how important it is for children to travel buckled up in a child seat that’s installed securely on the rear seat,” said Global NCAP secretary-general David Ward. “They know what they need to do to make it as easy as possible for parents: it’s just a question of priorities. Indian families buying these cars expect their children to be given the same protection as children in other parts of the world.”