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Latin NCAP crash tests highlight global cars with double standards on safety

Latin NCAP crash tests highlight global cars with double standards on safety
Tristan Honeywill

Latin NCAP published its third round of crash test results today, concluding that safety levels in the region still lag around 20 years behind Europe and North America. Changes are likely to accelerate in the next few years, however, as legislators, consumers and manufacturers wise up.

The latest results show some early signs of progress. More cars have achieved a four-star rating this time (although it’s worth noting that the requirements are more lenient than Euro NCAP’s and that there are still no five-star ratings). And a couple of manufacturers have made airbags standard on popular models.

It’s surprising that some brands with good reputations for safety in Europe are happy to sell one-star cars in emerging markets. The no-airbag Renault Sandero tested by Latin NCAP is an example of this, getting same poor one-star rating as a model by JAC, a relative newcomer from China.

It seems to be at odds with Renault Group’s official policy: “Road safety is a public health issue worldwide and a key component of Renault’s policy of responsible mobility…. The Group mobilizes its experts and its know-how to improve the safety of all its vehicles, with significant results.”

The regulatory environment is partly to blame. The lack of government requirements makes it too easy for manufacturers to downgrade safety in the pursuit of cheaper cars for customers. As a result, airbags, structural reinforcements and even ISOFIX mountings are sometimes removed to reduce cost by companies. It’s unclear whether all the savings are passed onto consumers.

Some brands with good reputations for safety in Europe are happy to sell one-star cars in emerging markets

In June Latin NCAP exhibited a Nissan March, which sells as the Micra in Europe. A price comparison by the organisation claimed that prices for the Latin American model without airbags and only basic brakes sold for more than its European equivalent, which comes with front, side and curtain airbags, ABS and electronic stability control. In countries such as Colombia and Uruguay opting for airbags can add €2,000 to the car’s price, according to the Latin NCAP report.

Alejandro Furas, technical director of Global NCAP, told Car Safety Rules: “Some manufacturers bring global platforms to Latin America and keep the same standard equipment and materials. Others de-spec the car for the region. This shouldn’t happen. When people buy a global brand, they expect to get the same quality and the same standards of safety and protection.”

The situation is changing: some countries are going to introduce legal requirements that will force manufacturers to bring safer products to market. Brazil and Argentina are planning to make airbags mandatory.

And, thanks to Latin NCAP’s efforts consumer awareness is growing. Manufacturers are starting to promote their safety features, even if their safety rating is poor, and are admitting that they can do better. Considering how quickly these markets are growing, greater efforts are needed to make mobility safer and more affordable.

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