Five out of five of India’s most popular small cars have achieved zero stars for adult protection in their first-ever independent crash test, with the Global New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) finding none could pass its 64km/h frontal impact test.
Accounting for around 20 per cent of all new cars sold in India last year, the test group included entry-level versions of the Ford Figo, Hyundai i10, Tata Nano, Volkswagen Polo and India’s best-selling car, the Suzuki-Maruti Alto 800. Due to their trim level and specification, none were fitted with airbags as standard.
Achieving a zero-star rating for its adult occupant protection and two stars for child protection, the Ford Figo’s vehicle structure was rated as “stable”, with the lack of airbags resulting in occupants directly absorbing “too much” of the crash energy.
The Hyundai i10 received one star for child protection with vehicle structure being rated as “unstable”. Global NCAP says the three-year-old dummy also indicated a high risk of serious injury.
The Tata Nano (pictured top) was the worst performer in the group, with a zero for adult occupant protection, a zero for child protection – safely installing child seats was not possible – and an “unstable” vehicle structure rating that makes the car “unsuitable for the fitment of airbags”.
Matching the Ford with its “stable” vehicle structure and zero adult occupant protection rating, although achieving a three-star rating for child protection, Global NCAP agreed to a request from Volkswagen to assess a version of the Polo with two airbags fitted as standard (pictured above), as the German car maker decided to withdraw the non-airbag version from sale in India at the same time as the test.
With dummy readings indicating a high risk of life-threatening injuries in the non-airbag version, the two-airbag-equipped Volkswagen Polo achieved a four-star rating for adult occupant protection thanks to “good” head and neck protection offered to both driver and passenger.
Achieving two stars for child protection and being rated as “unstable” and “unsuitable” for airbags, the Suzuki-Maruti Alto 800 (pictured bottom) had the second-worst results in the group behind the Nano.
Global NCAP chairman Max Mosley said it’s “worrying” seeing safety levels 20 years behind the five-star standards common in Europe and North America, particularly from a country that is now a major global market and production centre for small cars.
“Poor structural integrity and the absence of airbags are putting the lives of Indian consumers at risk," Mosley said.
"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."
Apart from its own 64km/h frontal impact test, Global NCAP also assessed the same five models against the UN’s basic 56km/h 40 per cent offset frontal impact crash test.
Used as a global standard by major manufacturing countries and regions, including Australia, the test is yet to be applied in India. All models, bar the two-airbag-equipped Polo, failed to pass the minimum standard – the Figo driver’s head narrowly avoided direct contact with the steering wheel.
President of India’s Institute of Road Traffic Education, Rohit Baluja, said the results show India would “benefit enormously” from the introduction of minimum crash safety standards and clearer information for consumers.
“Many cars made in India for export meet these standards already, so it’s not a question of know-how or capability: India’s automobile industry just needs the right incentives.”