Automakers start to build safer vehicles for Latin America
If you live in Latin America, by 2020 you will be three times more likely to die on the roads than in a high-income country, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The region’s development means more cars on the roads and an upward spiral of accidents, injuries and deaths.
Improving road safety is complex and requires better driver training, roads, emergency services and vehicles. Doing something about the cars is an important factor. Too many best-sellers cars are still delivered without ABS, airbags, three-point seatbelts and proper crash structures.
Change is on the way, however. Awareness among consumers of the key role vehicle safety can play is increasing. Car companies have started to offer Latin American buyers imported cars with higher levels of safety – and they are starting to build them in the region as well.
Big, influential markets such as Brazil are introducing UN safety regulations that ensure a base level of safety for vehicles. And the launch of independent consumer testing by Latin NCAP is encouraging the industry to invest more in the region.
“The manufacturers of our region are reacting. Brands with safe vehicles and those wishing to improve their safety are now striving to demonstrate it. This is a real change that benefits all of us: people in cars, the health system, insurance, and government”María Fernanda Rodríguez, Latin NCAP President
In the latest round of Latin NCAP’s crash tests, three more vehicles received five-star ratings: the Ford Focus and EcoSport and the VW Jetta. These are the first five-star vehicles ever built in the region. The Spanish-built SEAT Leon is the only other vehicle to have been awarded. This is real progress.
Latin NCAP President María Fernanda Rodríguez says the industry in the region is entering a new phase: “The manufacturers of our region are now reacting. Brands with safe vehicles and those wishing to improve their safety are now striving to demonstrate it. This is a real change that benefits all of us: people in cars, the health system, insurance, and government.”
The VW Jetta, which also sells as the Vento, is produced in Mexico. Speaking at Latin NCAP’s press conference in Rio, Ricardo Plöger, vehicle safety manager at Volkswagen Brazil, indicated that further locally produced five-star cars were in the pipeline.
“Until 2010, Brazil had no safety regulations,” said Plöger. “Locally produced models offered airbags as options, but the volumes were so low that the airbags had to be imported. Changes in the safety legislation mean that companies are coming into Latin America and investing. Production costs are much more competitive.”
“Everybody now knows Latin America’s car factories can produce five-star cars,” said Alejandro Furas, Global NCAP’s Technical Director who oversaw the crash testing. “With more cars built here receiving five-star safety ratings, the gap between Latin America and other markets is closing. Car makers and consumers are paying attention to the results of our crash tests and we’re seeing positive progress.”
Plöger agrees: “Independent organisations crash testing cars creates competition: there’s more incentive for OEMs to improve safety levels,“ he said.
Thanks to social media, people are becoming more aware of the serious differences between the cars that Mexican factories ship to the US and those that they sell to locals. Dual standards of safety are benefiting the bottom lines of automakers such as GM and Nissan – best-sellers by these global brands perform horrifically in crash tests.
Family car buyers are seeing through the glossy ads and the smooth talk in showrooms and are referring to Latin NCAP’s crash tests more and more. With a growing number of cars with good safety ratings coming on sale in the region, a key factor in the region’s appalling road safety record is starting to change for the better. Latin NCAP just needs to keep testing and for people to keep sharing the good news.