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Alto K10 crash test highlights how India car industry neglects safety

Alto K10 crash test highlights how India car industry neglects safety
Tristan Honeywill

One of the world’s best selling family cars, the Suzuki Alto K10 has been crash-tested for the first time. The total lack of protection for the driver raises questions about whether the India car industry is striking the right balance between affordability and safety. Safety groups say it is time for minimum standards to be introduced.

Manufactured by Suzuki-Maruti in India, the Alto K10 is exported to South America. The region’s car safety organization, Latin NCAP bought one, and sent it to Germany for crash-testing.

In the test, the Suzuki Alto K10’s structure was unstable and performed very badly. “The high forces placed on the dummies pose an unacceptably high risk of death,” said Latin NCAP’s report.

 

Just about everything in the car collapsed onto the driver. The diagram produced by Latin NCAP shows the dummy painted almost completely red. The child protection score was better: three stars, but Latin NCAP points out that it’s because the front of seats has cushioned the force for the children. In a crash, the Alto K10 is an orphan-maker.

More die on India’s roads than anywhere else in the world: around 130,000 a year. People in cars should be among the safest, but they’re not. Car and utility vehicle drivers and passengers account for 16% (20,800 lives) of road deaths each year. Only motorcyclists and those on three-wheelers (32%, 41,000 lives) are more at risk. Pedestrians and cyclists account for just 9% and 5% respectively.

More die on India’s roads than anywhere else in the world: around 130,000 a year. People in cars should be among the safest, but they’re not

Experts like to blame the figures on Indian drivers for not wearing seatbelts. It certainly doesn’t help, but with cars like the Suzuki Alto K10 collapsing onto the driver, it’s clear that the cars on sale are a part of the problem too.

As in Latin America, car makers are able to sell cheap old cars with healthy profit margins. We’re told these cars are exactly what consumers in emerging markets demand. I’m not so sure the average consumer is really aware what is being sold. They’re asking for greater safety and are being told that four wheels is the answer.

In Latin America, independent crash testing is starting to help consumers to make more informed choices. India needs its own Euro NCAP-style organization as well, don’t you think?

 

Comments

  1. Arun Philip

    “We’re told these cars are exactly what consumers in emerging markets demand”. It reminds me of an old ad “No one asked for fluoride in toothpaste” – there are times when we’d appreciate manufacturers taking the moral high ground and do the right thing, rather than just provide what’s asked.

    In India, the upgrade to a car is an increase in stature, and as long as car manufacturers look at selling a car to fit that bill, things are not going to improve.

    Sadly, its hard for manufacturers to do the right thing in a competitive and cost-obsessed market*, so we need the government’s regulatory agencies to bell the cat. This is another area where India falls short – today, the only mandatory safety kit in a car is a laminated windshield, and seat belts. No ABS, no pre-tensioners, no airbags.

    * Ford introduced the refreshed Fiesta sedan in 2011 with ABS across the range, and 2 airbags on nearly all variants. That car failed in the market as buyers didn’t appreciate this safety kit, they were driven by its price to competitors’ offerings.

    PS: I’m an Indian, terrified by the ‘average’ car on sale here. Your article doesn’t help!

    • Hi Arun. Thank you for your comment. Wish I could do more to promote cars that offer good safety in India! Agree that government support is essential. In the meantime, I’ll try speaking to Ford about the Fiesta.

  2. Angad

    India does have such organisations in India that have been long formed like iCAT, NATRiP and ARAI, Pune though it’s not sure that they have crash testing facilities or not. Maybe their role should be more strengthened in automotive testing.

    And the fact that Indian designed automobiles hardly pass crash tests is a long known feature in mechanic circles. The grisly accidents and sheet metal qualities that such low range vehicles exhibit proves this.

    • Thanks for your comment Angad. Agree that India has the know-how. It would be good to see crash testing given a boost and more attention paid to the quality of the structures

    • Sujit

      ARAI do have crash test facility. The standard applicable in India is simple crash test with steering movement as a passing criteria. With time, all the safety standards will be implemented in India. The major factors for safety negligence in India are cost and awareness about the safety. Indian customers always looks at cost, mileage as a primary criteria and the manufactures are making cars as per the customer requirements without any principles.
      TATA motors is having a full fledge crash test facility and producing vehicles with crash safety as primary criteria. The crash test requirements are becoming stringent with time for cars as well as commercial vehicles.
      Hope in few years we will follow all the safety norms.

  3. Shailesh Saraph

    It’s surprising that the article makes a generic statement (“Alto K10 crash test highlights how India car industry neglects safety”) about the Indian car industry.

    Please note that TATA Motors has an internationally certified Crash Test facility at its Pune plant. All TATA Motors vehicles from the Nano to the Aria are fully tested for crash worthiness and are certified.

    The TATA Nano has even been crash tested at the European facility of MIRA and has come out with flying colours (http://jalopnik.com/5315440/tata-nano-passes-european-crash-tests)

    It’s incorrect to tar everyone with the same brush and while the points on safety and making safety standards mandatory are well appreciated, the article does not cover all the facts.

    • Hi Shailesh. Thank you for your comment. I am generalising, it’s true, but I think the Alto is a good example of India’s industry failing consumers on safety. In my write-up I also ignored the fact that the Suzuki Celerio just scored four stars in Latin NCAP’s tests. That’s encouraging and it’s another Maruti-Suzuki vehicle. I should have mentioned this. I’ll try to be more even-handed in future write-ups.

      I don’t doubt that Tata has the capability and I’d love it if the Nano could do well in an NCAP crash test at 64km/h. It would show everybody that you don’t have to cut safety to make a car affordable. I’m not sure the Nano would do well. I’m aware of the MIRA test of the Nano. it was observed by two magazines: Autocar and Professional Engineering. I was working for Professional Engineering at the time and got to see a copy of the test report. It’s worth noting that this wasn’t a standard Nano – I’d need to dig out my write-up to check the upgrades the car received (the magazine is in the attic). It did enough to pass the test, but the dummy readings showed some quite high chest compressions. It would not have done well in an NCAP test at slightly higher speeds.

      Again, thanks for your feedback

  4. shorya

    Looking at this i would never like to opt for alto car. It’s such a pathetic car, The car which not even protect the driver, how can someone trust on such a brand. It’s better to have a Tata Nano rather than having such car, atleast people can trust on such brands.

    • Agree there’s a question of trust here, but I’m not sure I’d swap an Alto for a Nano

  5. Abraham Joseph

    considering these results, instead of the cheap hatchbacks obsession Indians have, we should go for 2nd hand imports from Japan and germany of vehicles like Toyota and Skoda etc. whole of India’s neighbours have this 2nd hand market only.

    • Jankit

      This is really a good suggestions but hey, not all cars are having same results. I would prefer you to check videos before you take any final decision.

  6. Rahul

    The buyers are a diverse set of people with wide disparity in income. To someone moving from a scooter/motorcycle to a car, even an Alto seems safer – a basic steel shell and 4 wheels are safer than 2 wheels and no cage/shell. Can’t really blame the bottom end buyers, they’re hard pressed for cash and buy cars with borrowed money. They could be better served by used cars which are safer, but there are other problems with them – reliability, spare parts cost; availability and service costs, not to mention running cost. Add to that fuel costs that rise faster than income, poor roads and dense traffic in cities, the gridlock means average speeds are rather pedestrian in the cities, during daytime. Not much incentive to pick a safer car when you can barely get past 3rd gear. Those who run highways, surely need to look harder at buying safer cars.

    Then there are relatively better off buyers, who still skimp on safety saying they don’t drive fast, and they are good drivers, you can’t go fast in such traffic anyway and so on. That may work for them provided they don’t use highways but still risk a heavy vehicle like a bus or truck going faster than it should.

    Manufacturers try to upsell high/top end variants by denying valued features and safety. Only a few offer safety on all variants, and that too not on all models. Honda City/Jazz has ABS/airbags across variants, but the Brio does not. Combining safety with upmarket features like bluetooth equipped audio systems, the top end variants can be as much as 40% more expensive than the base variants.

    Government doesn’t do its job well either. They charge various taxes on ex-factory cost as national and state level, which adds to the end user cost but provide no concessions on taxes for safety (or environment friendliness). Car costs vary by as much as 15% across states for the same model and variant. Neither do they welcome used car imports – those are also taxed heavily to protect domestic industry.

  7. vijay

    hi how is the safety test or crash worthiness of indian toyoto etios. the company takes pride in quality ,durability,reliability,but what about safety

    • Hi Vijay
      It’s a good question. In fact it would be good to know the safety/crashworthiness of all the popular models in India. I know that Latin NCAP crash-tested a Toyota Etios and it scored four stars, but I don’t know if this is the same model and specification as the one sold in India. There can be significant differences sometimes. I’ll ask around for you

      • It looks as though the Toyota Etios tested by Latin NCAP is a Brazil-only model. The Indian-market model looks like it could be on a different, possibly older vehicle platform. I’ll keep asking around in case there are crash test results for this car somewhere else. Sorry I can’t be more help at the moment!

  8. Lakshminarayanan

    I am planning to buy All new Ford Fiesta 2014 in another couple of months. Does this car passes the crash test? Is it s safe car to buy? Please share your comments and test results if available.

    • Hi. I don’t know which crash tests the new Fiesta will have passed. I’m hoping that manufacturers will start to put their good cars forward for crash testing but until they do, we can only rely on what the people in the dealership say. I doubt they know any more than I do though unfortunately.

  9. Edward

    Hi Tristan, do you know if the Suzuki Alto complies with Indian standards (Automotive Industry Standards) or they are not compulsory?

    • Hi Edward. The Alto must comply with Indian standards, but I’m not sure what those standards are. Judging by the poor results in the Global NCAP tests, which subjected the Alto 800 and others to an R94 test at 56kmh, it’s clear that local requirements are much lower than in other markets.

      • Edward

        Thank you for your quick reply!
        But I’m still a little bit confused. Looking at this table http://www.globalncap.org/crash-testing/, it seems that AIS standards are similar to ECE regulations and others. What do you think?

        • Hmm. If that table is correct, then you’d think that standards have somehow been introduced but aren’t being applied/enacted. I’m really no expert on India’s regulatory system though. I’ll see if I can pick that up for a future post. That is pretty confusing

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