Updated: May 18, 2016 10:22:51 pm
The Global NCAP or GNCAP, short for Global New Car Assessment Programme, released its crash-test results of some of the most famous and highest selling cars in India. And it didn’t make for good reading.
This time around, five cars which are greatly popular among customers — Hyundai Eon, Maruti Suzuki Eeco, Maruti Suzuki Celerio, Mahindra Scorpio, and Renault Kwid — were subjected to the crash-tests. All of the cars scored zero in adult front occupants’ safety. In the entire drama of poor results enveloping the five cars mentioned above, the rating secured by the Toyota Etios Liva hatchback got completely eclipsed. It scored an extremely respectable 4-star rating for front adult occupants.
In 2014, Global NCAP had tested a few other Indian cars. The list included the likes of Datsun GO, Maruti Suzuki Swift, Maruti Suzuki Alto, Hyundai i10, Tata Nano, and Volkswagen Polo. Save for the Volkswagen Polo’s dual-airbag variant received a 4-star rating, every other car failed to manage even a single star in its favour. Ever since then, Volkswagen has been giving dual airbags as a standard fitment in all its cars.
It’s strange how the test results of the same cars vary for the corresponding international models. For example, the Euro NCAP tested the Suzuki Celerio in 2014 and it got a respectable score of 3-stars. The same authority tested the Suzuki Swift in 2010 and awarded it a solid 5-star rating overall. Shift things geographically to India and it gets woefully nefarious.
Does this prove a bias of some sort? Yes, if you’re a lay person who’s angry on the manufacturers for such miserable show by their cars, or not necessarily, if you’re a manufacturer. It does prove one very significant thing — the safety quotient of the Indian cars is substantially lower compared to the same models in the international (read developed) markets. What’s most disappointing is that some manufacturers export the same product from their Indian factories to different parts of the world (again, read developed markets)!
Sure there will be debates, legal battles and bashing and countering on media and social media, but no one can get away from some fundamental realities here. Indian automotive market is the sixth largest in the world currently and is poised to become third largest globally by 2020, and there are 196 countries in total. So, we’re a pretty significant lot by that measure. Plainly on that basis, the auto manufacturers should, by default, invest immensely in the Indian automotive landscape — not only on sales and marketing push because of the great scope here, but also from the perspective of global quality products.
Manufacturers reacted strongly when the results came out and that was all but expected. Every manufacturer’s statement mentions that their respective cars comply with existing Indian safety standards. Well…
Renault Kwid has been going strong in the market on outright sales numbers and is the second largest selling car in its segment after the Alto. David Ward, Secretary General of Global NCAP, in an official statement, said about Renault that, “It is very surprising that a manufacturer like Renault introduced the Kwid initially lacking this essential feature. Global NCAP strongly believes that no manufacturer anywhere in the world should be developing new models that are so clearly sub-standard. Car makers must ensure that their new models pass the UN’s minimum crash test regulations, and support use of an airbag.”
He went on to add, “We welcome Renault’s efforts to correct this and we look forward to testing another improved version with airbags. Renault has a strong record of achievement in safety in Europe and it should offer the same commitment to its customers in India.”
Renault’s official statement read as follows: “GNCAP announced their results today and welcomed Renault’s efforts and commitment to safety enhancement. Safety is of paramount importance for Renault and all our products meet and exceed the requisite safety standards set by Indian Regulatory Authorities. India is gradually moving towards international safety norms by including more robust safety regulations and the assurance of the Bharat NCAP is a positive step in this direction. As a customer-focused company, Renault fully supports this initiative and we are already future-ready in terms of technology, design and engineering for enhanced safety for all our vehicles. Indian Government has announced that the crash test regulation for the existing cars will come into effect in 2019 and for the new cars in 2017 . Renault is committed to comply with these timelines.”
Do you see something strange with that press note? Renault claims the company is “already future-ready in terms of technology, design and engineering for enhanced safety” for all its vehicles. Why doesn’t the company launch the future-ready products already, then? What’re they waiting for? Or is it that the car driving community a couple of years down the line — when the future-ready cars will be introduced, expectedly — is going to be more valuable than the ones driving around in the existing cars now? But the companies get away with such things — sadly so. And that’s primarily because there’s no sense of ownership and leadership towards safety and as consumers, we aren’t literate enough to understand what’s safe and what’s not. It’s really up to the manufacturers to lead from the front and offer the buying public the safest possible vehicles and make them aware about the products and the latest in safety technology that their cars offer.
Mahindra went one step further. The official statement read, “All Mahindra Automotive products are developed and manufactured to meet or exceed the safety standards set in India for a safe driving experience. In fact, many models exceed the expected regulations of 2019. The star rating as released by Global NCAP (GNCAP) in the latest crash test was conducted on non-airbags variant of the Scorpio. Typically, in any star rating process, non-airbag variants do not perform well on safety standards. Most variants of the Scorpio are equipped with airbags and a safety package. Approximately 75% of Scorpio customers choose the air bags variants of the vehicle. There is nothing more important to us than our customer’s safety. We are committed to meeting and exceeding all current and future safety norms and in most cases giving our customers choice of enhanced safety beyond the regulated standards.”
Sure, I give them my acceptance on the claim that any non-airbag variant will not perform as well. But, a company statement that says that 75% of the customers opt for the airbag variant of the Scorpio is just bizarre! It’ll be interesting to see the crash-test result of that trim, too. So the 25% who don’t invest in the airbag variant don’t deserve basic safety levels? I wouldn’t be surprised if that quarter went into the fleet ownership category — which means the cars are being used as taxis, which in-turn means that, hypothetically speaking, lives are at risk. If you watch the crash-test video of the Scorpio, you’ll be horrified at seeing the manner in which the structure collapses. The Scorpio is an imposing looking SUV — a symbol of power and masculinity. An SUV gets perceived as a safe vehicle by default, yet, it’s really not. The results prove it.
Our obsession with immaterial chrome accents and other such flash items is stupid, and the car makers should drive home the point by forcing the customers to steer away from this trend and get more aware about their personal safety — that’s when India will reach a certain maturity that we all keep gloriously talking about.
Manufacturers might complain about the testing methodology and say that 64km/h testing speed is far higher than what is the typical average speed. But do we test safety at typical slow average speeds, or for high-speed, fatality causing, crashes? All cars globally should be at the same level of basic safety and there should be any debate or disagreement on it.
The tests conducted had adult human dummies in the front and children (18-months, and 3 year old) in the rear of the cabin. All the occupants were belted. Sadly, the reality of Indian motoring society is far from this ideal scenario. In the urban centres, the front passengers are forced to wear seat belts, but there’s no rule like that for the rear passengers. In the semi urban and rural sectors, no one cares for such passive safety items or values their presence in their vehicles and aren’t rule-bound either. So, typically, a heavy percentage of Indian passenger car occupants don’t wear seat belts. Now imagine the extent of injury without any restraining force holding them back in their seats. It’s scary, isn’t it?
It’s time that all manufacturers take onus and give the consumers cars of great substance and value with the foundations set on basic safety levels — they invest great faith and resources in the cars, invest the same back for them?
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