ANCAP says it unsuccessfully attempted to secure Ford Mustangs to crash test on several occasions, before encouraging its European sister organisation Euro NCAP to pick up the baton.
The result was the sensational and “shocking” two-star result announced for the GT Fastback this week, which Euro NCAP alleges came about because Ford did not expect — and therefore did not design — the Mustang to be tested outside of America, which has different testing regimes.
The implication of this, should it be true, is that Ford potentially knew full-well that it would achieve a bad NCAP score, and attempted to postpone testing until it could introduce a series of promised 2018 model year updates.
"It appears clear that Ford was aware they may not get a high rating under the protocols," said ANCAP CEO, James Goodwin. "There has been some talk that this was a new protocol. Not really. It's been in place a couple of years now and more than 25 cars (including Ford's five-star Transit Custom van) have been assessed under it."
Beyond this, the timing also explains, from one angle anyway, why the Mustang was only NCAP tested recently despite being available in Australia for more than a year, with no consumer-facing safety rating fully applicable to our market.
ANCAP's allegations fly in the face of Ford’s long-stated position that this iteration of the legendary Mustang was designed as a full global project designed to be sold in markets all around the world, unlike the car’s America-centric predecessors.
In response, Ford acknowledged that the Mustang’s massive sales success — 6208 units were sold in Australia alone in 2016 — worked against the car, because most low-volume sports car wouldn’t be tested by any of the NCAP bodies.
However, the Blue Oval also pointed out the Mustang’s five-star NHTSA (American NCAP equivalent, with different testing criteria) score and ‘good’ rating from the IIHS testing body in the US as a defence, though NHTSA in particular is less stringent, one example being that it uses a lower front impact test speed.
As we reported yesterday, Euro NCAP and ANCAP testing gave the 2017 Mustang 16 per cent for safety assist tech, 32 per cent for child occupant protection, 72 per cent for adult occupant protection and 64 per cent for pedestrian protection.
The full width frontal test showed “a risk of serious head, chest and leg injury for the rear passenger”, ANCAP said, adding that there was also insufficient inflation of both front airbags in the frontal offset test which allowed the driver’s head to contact the steering wheel and the passenger’s head to contact the dashboard.
The driver’s door opened in the pole test, and whiplash protection for rear-end collisions was considered marginal. This is in addition to a relative lack of safety assist technologies that are becoming more common on even budget cars, such as autonomous braking (AEB).
Goodwin spoke with CarAdvice today as a follow-up after the two-star score went live yesterday, telling us the huge publicity generated was expected but not a motivator for the test, and that it had been seeking a rating for some time.
"We had been trying to get a rating for some time. I'd suggest the reaction is unfortunately what we would expect for a rating like this. It's a popular car, not a cheap car, a newly-designed vehicle, and we would be expecting better," he said.
"Most manufacturers and most cars come to us just before they've launched [in this case, January 2016], that's the best time to issue a safety rating for the consumer, the brand and ANCAP. Most brands are proactive to get a test slot prior to launch," he added.
ANCAP has three methods to secure vehicles to test. Manufacturers can pay for the tests themselves, they can simply provide cars and share the costs, or ANCAP reserves the right to anonymously purchase a vehicle when it meets resistance, though the Mustang's well-publicised waiting list in Australia made the latter course of action harder than usual.
"Ford did not approach ANCAP to get a rating before launch," Goodwin added. "ANCAP constantly monitors the vehicle marketplace… we will approach the brand and speak to them and see if they would like to cooperate and provide vehicles for testing.
"But... we will actively go out there and even if the brand is not aware of the process or not keen for the rating, we will buy that vehicle and conduct testing.
"There was added pressure on ANCAP to get a rating for when police departments rang seeing if there was a rating for the vehicle," he added.
Goodwin said that the Mustang was constantly the highest-selling un-tested vehicle in-market, an untenable situation to be in for ANCAP.
"We approached Ford again, multiple times throughout the year, we also investigated without their cooperation securing vehicles, but as everyone is aware getting product is difficult, with the long wait times," he said.
"When I was talking to my colleague in Europe, he then understood how important the rating was in Australia and said he would investigate getting a rating in Europe.
"The pressure from Australia gave him added impetus to have those discussions in Europe.
"... If ANCAP had not been urging Euro NCAP to get a rating, it may have been delayed even further, so it was a good co-operation between ANCAP and Euro NCAP... the two organisations are getting closer and we are talking more than we have in the past."
The Mustang rating is the first coordinated release between the two organisations, while ANCAP will adopt the full Euro NCAP criteria from January 1, 2018.
"I would urge Ford to take this as a wake up, to swiftly upgrade the vehicle where they can. It is not just about seatbelt reminders and safety assist, there are fundamental points about airbag deployment and doors that should be looked at and explained.
"If you're on the waiting list to buy this, do you want it any more? The car is obviously not performing as most people would expect a car in 2017 to do. You can say all you like you're a safe driver, but we know the road toll is rising for the first time in decades.
"Everyone has a role to play in that. My message is it may be that you are a good driver, but the other person who runs into you or your family members may not be, so everyone should be in the safest car that suits their needs and that they can afford."
Speaking in response, Ford Australia communications head Martin Günsberg said:
"The Mustang has been hugely successful in Australia, and is the most popular sports car on sale. That success has meant that, while other small-volume sports cars are usually not considered for test by ANCAP, their interest increased in Mustang.
"We worked proactively with Euro-NCAP who then shared the result with ANCAP to assist in providing a result."
Yesterday, Günsberg also said that Ford was “committed to continued improvement in vehicle safety”, and that the new-look 2018 Mustang in Australia (pictured above in yellow) would be equipped with driver assistance features such as AEB and Lane Keeping Aid.