Most mid-segment cars in India are priced higher than corresponding models in markets such as the US or Europe, but fall short of safety standards. Airbags may have made a difference in Gopinath Munde’s case. Mihir Mishra & Anil Sasi
Here’s a what-if situation: Would last week’s accident involving Union Rural Development Minister Gopinath Munde’s Maruti Suzuki SX4 have had a different outcome if it had happened on a motorway in Europe or the US? There is a good chance that such a side-impact collision of a similar intensity wouldn’t have been fatal because, for one, the passenger on the rear seat would have been expected to wear the seatbelt, which is mandated under law in those countries unlike in India. Second, the car would had been equipped with a combination of side-impact and rear-curtain airbags that are offered as standard equipment across models in those markets.
These are safety features which could have helped minimise the whiplash impact that fractured Munde’s cervical spine and damaged his liver, causing death. Maruti Suzuki’s SX4 in India, like nearly all cars in its segment, is equipped with only two airbags, that too in its top variant.
When it comes to safety, mid-segment cars sold in India are vastly inferior to comparable models offered in markets such as the US or Europe. What makes it worse is that most sedans and hatchbacks sold in India, cutting across brands, are priced higher than comparable models abroad.
Take the new Toyota Camry Hybrid. The top variant of the car sold in India, which has four airbags, carries an ex-showroom price tag of Rs 30.59 lakh in Mumbai. Contrast that with the Camry Hybrid in the US, with 10 airbags as standard and a bevy of safety features, which carries a pre-tax price tag of $28,625 or about Rs 17.74 lakh (at a conversion rate of Rs 62/dollar). What makes this price difference starker is that the Indian version of the new Camry is being touted as the first ever locally manufactured hybrid car, which should have made it less expensive, considering labour costs and material costs in India are among the lowest in the world.
On safety features too, the Camry Hybrid in India falls short of its US cousin, despite the high price tag. The Camry Hybrid here offers vehicle stability control, back monitor with corner sensors and electronically controlled continuous variable transmission, among its list of standard fitments. The US version, on the other hand, is laden with features that include a patented ‘star safety system’ — a suite of six safety features that includes enhanced vehicle stability control, traction control, brake assist and smart stop technology. It continued…