NCAP calls out global safety disparity
6 January 2021 - Autocar
The vehicle safety body says that poor countries are given more dangerous cars, calls for minimum worldwide standards
Vehicle safety body Global NCAP has again thrown a spotlight on the disparity between the safety standards we are accustomed to in Europe and those of cars sold in lower-income markets, which the United Nations says account for 90% of the world's 1.3 million annual road deaths.
The Renault Kwid, already lambasted after poor results in India and Brazil, scored just two stars in Global NCAP's recent Safer Cars for Africa test, despite the criteria being lower than in Europe and the US. The poor result also comes in spite of the Kwid receiving safety upgrades including driver and passenger airbags.
The Kwid is closely related to the Dacia Spring Electric, which is expected to be the cheapest mass-production electric car when it goes on sale in Europe (but not the UK) next year.
The Spring Electric will require significant structural upgrades over the Kwid, as well as the inclusion of electronic safety systems, in order to meet European safety standards.
Back in 2018, Suzuki was criticised after the Swift built by subsidiary Maruti Suzuki, India's biggest car maker, scored just two stars, with its bodyshell being described by Global NCAP as "unstable". The Swift sold in markets such as India and Africa hides its poor safety well, because it's visually identical to the Swift sold in the UK, a car that scored three stars in the notably more stringent Euro NCAP test.
So are manufacturers guilty of applying different safety standards when it comes to the quality of materials in cars that look identical? Most definitely in the case of the Kwid, said Alejandro Furas, technical director at Global NCAP, who believes different-quality steel and even lower-quality welding are used in order to cut costs.
"If you look at the Kwid, the Brazilian version has way more reinforcements in the A-pillar than the Indian one, and we see that from stripping the car," he said. The Kwid was significantly upgraded for Brazil in response to a public outcry when it failed its initial crash test there.
Car makers and automotive industry associations refute this, pointing out that their cars meet the regulatory standards of the countries in which they are sold. However, Global NCAP president David Ward said this argument isn't acceptable. He even accused some associations of "moral bankruptcy", with the caveat that they're supporting their weakest members' position.
Neither the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers nor the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers South Africa responded to the accusations. The same goes for both Suzuki and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, which not only produces the Kwid but also owns the Datsun brand that was rebuked for the poor safety of its Go model.
Another manufacturer that failed to respond to our questions was Chinese firm Great Wall. In the latest tests, its Steed pick-up truck scored zero stars and, shockingly, one of the front wheels intruded so far into the interior during the frontal offset crash test that it was almost touching the driver's seat – something Furas said he had never seen before.
There are positive changes coming, though. Last week, Autocar India reported that Global NCAP plans to introduce even more stringent tests in India to assess side impact protection and possibly even electronic stability control.
Autocar India editor Hormazd Sorabjee said the implementation of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) is the best solution, particularly in a country like India, where a large number of road injuries and fatalities happen to motorcyclists and passengers and, as in Africa, many road users ignore rules and law enforcement is lacking.
"A car with more ADAS features is far, far more important than one with a good crash test result, because the whole idea is to stop the crash," said Sorabjee.
What everyone does agree on, however, is that there need to be minimum global standards. The International Organisation of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers, the umbrella organisation of all the vehicle manufacturer associations, stated in its Global Road Safety manifesto last year that governments worldwide "should use the experience gained in a number of well-developed markets to set minimum vehicle safety standards for all new vehicles sold on their territory".