RC Bhargava, chairman of the country’s largest carmaker Maruti Suzuki, has cautioned the government against falling for any global body’s assertion that safety measures like airbags or disc brakes be made mandatory for all cars, even entry-level ones.
In an interview with FE, Bhargava said recommendations like the recent one from the Global NCAP (New Car Assessment Programme), a private autonomous body, would only expose consumers to more risks. He said that if carmakers incorporate such features in even entry-level cars, obviously the price would go up, which would lead consumers to opt for two-wheelers, which would be more unsafe.
He said that such findings by global autonomous bodies did not take into account Indian conditions and acting on them could be counterproductive.
“The intention should be to reduce road fatalities. Therefore, we have to take a total picture of Indian road issues. If you only take cars, that results in just 3-4% improvement. But this may also do damage somewhere else, because the risk factor of a person driving a two-wheeler is far higher than those driving even old Fiat cars,” he said.
“Are you overall helping or reducing safety? The person who graduates to a car from a two-wheeler is a very marginal guy, a little bit of price increase and he will push the purchase away for the next year. We saw that when the petrol prices went up, these guys could not afford cars,” he added.
Though the road ministry has not come forward with any concrete proposal so far, there have been suggestions at the official level to make airbags mandatory in all cars to increase road safety.
Going by current cost estimates, adding two front airbags to an entry-level and the country’s top-selling car like the Alto 800 would add about R30,000 to the starting price of R2.4 lakh. Further, adding an anti-lock braking system, which reduces braking distances especially in wet conditions, will further push the price up by about R10,000.
In the most recent tests conducted this month, Global NCAP tested the Maruti Swift and Datsun Go. In February this year, it had tested the Maruti Suzuki Alto 800, Tata Nano, Ford Figo, Hyundai i10 and Volkswagen Polo. Besides the Polo and Figo, all other cars completely failed the tests. The agency conducts side impact test, where another car hits the target vehicle at 40 kmph, and a frontal offset test at 64 kmph.
“People are talking of car safety and we have about 1.5 lakh road fatalities, therefore cars should be made more safe. None of these people have established any link between the number of deaths and cars. If you actually look at the data, there is huge difference. One point is that in the EU, 50% of the road fatalities are inside cars, but in India it is 16%. This is because two-wheelers and pedestrians are far higher,” Bhargava said.
He said that a “commercial angle” is always present in pushing such technologies. “Somebody wants to sell an airbag, what does he do? He pushes the safety angle. Nobody has yet proved that unsafe cars are the reason for higher road fatalities,” he said, adding that most companies now offer airbags in the top variants of all car models, so if buyers drive on highways at higher speeds, they can buy that version.
Incidentally, Global NCAP chairman Max Mosley has also written a letter to Nissan chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn asking the company to withdraw the “substandard” Datsun Go model from India and other markets because its body shell is so unstable that even adding airbags would be pointless.
There’s no linkage in India between road fatalities and unsafe cars
Unlike in EU countries where 50% road fatalities are inside cars, in India it is only 16%
There could be a commercial angle in pushing such safety technologies
Such measures can improve road safety by only 3-4%
Features like airbags are offered in higher-end cars
Roudra Bhattacharya | The Financial Express