Five Indian cars were tested in the latest round of crash tests conducted by Global NCAP, a UK-based road safety NGO that counts Bloomberg Philanthropies, FIA Foundation (the governing body for Formula 1 racing), International Consumer Testing and Research, and the Road Safety Fund among its promoters. NCAP stands for New Car Assessment Programme, a series of safety tests instituted by Global NCAP that has editions in several car markets, and assesses safety and build quality parameters in new vehicles. The higher the NCAP score, the safer the car is supposed to be. All five cars tested in India — the Renault Kwid, Maruti Suzuki Celerio, Maruti Suzuki Eeco, Mahindra Scorpio and Hyundai Eon — were given the lowest rating (zero out of a maximum five stars) for safety by the agency in its third round of crash tests conducted on Indian cars.
Global NCAP does not inform manufacturers about the tests and picks the cars directly from the showrooms. In the latest tests, results of which were announced on Tuesday, base models of these five cars, all without airbags (barring one variant of the Kwid), were driven at 64 km/h into a block simulating a head-on collision. Global NCAP also tested the cars in a crash simulation as per United Nations standards: a frontal collision at the slightly slower speed of 56 km/h.
* Frontal impact test: It represents the most common type of crash that causes serious or fatal injuries, and is a severe test of the integrity and stability of the passenger compartment and performance of the restraint system — belts and airbags. Contact between dummies (adult driver and front-seat passenger) and intruding parts of the passenger compartment is taken into account, as is knee contact with stiff structures in the lower part of the dashboard, footwell intrusion and pedal movement.
The assessment is based on a combination of video and dummy data recorded during the test, and a detailed inspection of the car following the test. Possible outcomes for larger or smaller occupants, occupants in different seating positions, or crashes of slightly different severity are also taken into account
Over the years, the test has been effective at encouraging carmakers to incorporate improvements in the strength and stability of the passenger compartment; fitment of seatbelt pre-tensioners, load limiters and dual-stage airbags; removal of hazardous and stiff structures; fitment of knee airbags; and reduced footwell intrusion and control of pedal movement to reduce lower leg injury risk.
* Child protection parameter: GNCAP typically includes two child dummies in child restraints in the rear seat for the frontal impact test, and bases its child protection score on dummy data — head movement, neck loads, and chest accelerations. The dummies represent children aged one and a half and three, and the child seats used are generally those recommended by the manufacturer.
None of the cars was able to score even 1 star out of 5 for Adult Occupant Safety. All cars scored 2 stars for child safety, except the Celerio, which got only 1 star. For consumers and manufacturers, the most important thing for a car is to have a body shell that can remain stable in a crash, which, according to GNCAP, is a crucial pre-requisite for occupant safety, together with fitment of at least front air bags. Essentially, to pass these tests, vehicles must carry some basic safety equipment — dual airbags is a mandated requirement. The fact that none of the cars has airbags as part of standard equipment meant they were doomed to fail even before they could be crashed.
More importantly for consumers, the results of this round of tests on the structural integrity of the cars’ body shell are in line with those of the previous tests conducted by GNCAP. The organisation has carried out two rounds of tests on Indian cars since January 2014 — on the Hyundai i10, Tata Nano, Maruti Suzuki Alto 800, Volkswagen Polo, Ford Figo, Maruti Suzuki Swift and Datsun Go, picking base variants of all these cars.
What carmakers say
They have argued that Global NCAP tests were conducted at speeds higher than those prescribed by regulators, not only in India but also in Europe and the US. New Indian regulations — Bharat New Vehicle Safety Assessment Programme, or BNVSAP — that will kick in from October 2017 require that crash tests are done at 56 km/h, the same standard as in Europe and US. Carmakers say crashing the vehicles at a higher speed is unnecessary and amounts to “scaremongering”. They also argue that average speeds in India are not comparable to those in Europe, and that a frontal crash test at even 56 km/h is equivalent to an impact between two cars at 112 km/h. The carmakers have questioned GNCAP’s association with safety component makers such as Autoliv, Bosch, Continental, Denso and Thatcham. Globally, carmakers such as Volvo, a brand synonymous with safety, have raised apprehensions that some manufacturers are building vehicles to comply with NCAP tests rather than focusing on real-world crashes.
What the results mean
There may be some merit in the carmakers’ questioning of the timing of the latest round of tests. Unlike in 2014, when GNCAP came out with crash test results for Indian cars for the first time, there is now a clearly visible switch-on date (October 2017) for safety standards that are “at par” with those in Europe and the US. Also, average speeds in India are certainly lower than in the developed world, due to poor road conditions and heavy traffic. The country’s road safety record — one of the worst in the world — is primarily the result of untrained drivers, inadequate law enforcement, badly maintained roads, poor pedestrian regulations, and a high concentration of two-wheelers in traffic, alongside unsafe cars.
There is, however, no denying that the two rounds of Global NCAP tests since January 2014 have had a big impact on the car safety scenario in India. Immediately after the January 2014 tests, Volkswagen introduced two airbags in the Polo; most other companies too are in the process of introducing them in their base models. The test results were instrumental in prodding the government to come out with occupant protection regulations under the BNVSAP, and prescribe frontal offset and side impact regulations. Maruti Suzuki, India’s largest carmaker, has said that its recently introduced model Vitara Brezza complies with the BNVSAP (offset/side impact), well ahead of the regulations coming into force.