Low-cost vehicles sold in developing markets are rarely paragons of safety, because making key body stress points from high-grade materials, and adding lots of safety equipment, is expensive.
Yet there appears to be a significant differential in crash safety that should worry anyone who believes in big car-makers taking some semblance of corporate responsibility for people who buy their cars, and who wants published crash scores mandated globally.
Global NCAP - the group that oversees organisations such as Australia’s ANCAP - and South Africa’s AA, this week released results from what they claim were the first independent crash tests of some of the country’s most popular compact and small cars.
The results have prompted calls for a UN-mandated global minimum safety standard, and to OEMs to commit to making their cars safer, even if regulators aren’t forcing them.
The models tested include South Africa’s best-selling car, the VW Polo Vivo. Others tested were the Datsun Go+, Toyota Etios, Renault Sandero and Chery QQ3. Combined sales of these five cars account for around 65 per cent of all the new cars sold in SA last year.
Global NCAP says it chose the entry-level version of each model, one of them not fitted with any airbags as standard. The results highlighted differences in the structural integrity of the vehicles tested.
“The crashworthiness results of the five cars tested show a wide range of safety performance, from four to zero stars for adult protection, with the lowest ratings resulting in a high probability of life threatening injury in a road crash,” NCAP said.
The results are pretty confronting, as are similar test findings from NCAP’s forays into India and ASEAN. Safer than a motorbike? Maybe. But is that the bar we want to set?
The Etios achieved a four-star rating for adult occupant protection in the frontal crash test at 64km/h. The vehicle structure was rated as stable, offering good general adult occupant protection.
The car included seatbelts with pretensioners for both front passengers. Using the child seats recommended by Toyota, the Etios achieved a three-star rating for child occupant protection.
The Sandero achieved a three-star rating for adult occupant protection in the frontal crash test at 64km/h. The vehicle structure was rated as stable, offering acceptable general adult occupant protection.
The car did not include seatbelt pretensioners. Using the child seats recommended by Renault, the Sandero achieved a four-star rating for child occupant protection.
Volkswagen Polo Vivo
The Polo Vivo achieved a three-star rating for adult occupant protection in the frontal crash test at 64km/h. The vehicle structure was rated as stable, offering acceptable adult occupant protection.
The car did not include seatbelt pretensioners. Using the child seats recommended by VW, the Polo Vivo achieved a three-star rating for child protection.
The GO+ achieved a one star rating for its poor adult occupant protection mainly in the Driver chest in the frontal crash test at 64km/h.
The vehicle structure was rated as unstable, steering wheel movement, even though a steering wheel airbag was fitted, recorded high compression to the chest of the driver dummy.
There was no airbag for the passenger. The Datsun GO+ achieved a two star rating for child occupant protection using the child seats.
The QQ3 achieved a zero-star rating for its poor adult occupant protection mainly in driver’s head and chest. The vehicle structure was rated as unstable as it collapsed in some relevant areas during the impact.
Injury impacts recorded in the dummy head and chest in particular led to this result. There were no airbags for the adult passengers.
The manufacturer did not recommend specific child seats, which explains most of the points loss for child occupant protection. The QQ3 was given a zero-star rating for child occupant protection, considering the poor vehicle readiness to safely accommodate the child seats.
Collins Khumalo, the CEO of the AA of South Africa said: “The crash tests represent an important step in road safety in South Africa. We believe consumers have a right to know what the safety ratings are on the cars they want to buy.
“These results are critical to educating the public about vehicle safety, but, more than that, they empower road users to make informed decisions. In the same way emissions and green ratings are displayed on vehicles, we think safety ratings should also be displayed on vehicles, and we don’t believe this should be too much of a challenge to make happen.”
Pictured: India-market Renault Kwid test
Adding to this, secretary general of Global NCAP, David Ward said: “It is good to see a four star result in these first ever African crash test ratings. However, it’s extremely disappointing that there’s a zero star car. Such a poor result shows why it is so important for countries like South Africa to fully apply the UN’s crash test standards.
“Consumers need clear, comparative crash test information to help inform their car purchase decisions. This is why Global NCAP supports the introduction of mandatory crash test labelling for all new cars sold in South Africa.”
Dr. Kelly Henning, director of Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Health team, said: “The latest Global NCAP crash test results for some of the most popular cars sold in South Africa clearly demonstrate why minimum UN vehicle safety standards should be universally applied.
“Ahead of legislation we would urge all auto makers worldwide to voluntarily commit to eliminate the production of zero star cars.”