There are many parameters that one should consider when making a vehicle purchase. In India, it’s been traditionally about fuel efficiency, maintenance costs or ease of ownership, and resale value. Safety as an important sales driving parameter never really featured on the top of the list, but has gradually been gaining ground with consumers getting increasingly aware and more demanding.
The Global NCAP results of the latest crash tests conducted on five Indian car models — the Renault Kwid, Maruti Suzuki Celerio, Maruti Suzuki Eeco, Mahindra Scorpio and Hyundai Eon — are disappointing to put it mildly.
It is expected that the manufacturers are going to react with strong words in favour of their models suggesting that the cars comply with all Indian safety norms. But is it really enough? There might be debates about these crash test results, especially questioning the testing methodology and the speed of 64Km/h at which the vehicles were subjected to impact being higher than ideal. Now, what really is ideal, anyway?
David Ward, Secretary General of Global NCAP, in an official statement on the crash test results said, “The latest SaferCarsforIndia results show how important it is for cars to have a body shell that can remain stable in a crash. This is an absolutely crucial pre-requisite for occupant safety together with fitment at least of front air bags.”
The recent sales sensation in the compact hatchback segment, Renault Kwid, was tested in three trims, including one with airbags, but all of the variants scored zero for adult safety. Ward, commenting on Renault, added, ”It is very surprising that a manufacturer like Renault introduced the Kwid initially lacking this essential feature. Global NCAP strongly believes that no manufacturer anywhere in the world should be developing new models that are so clearly sub-standard. Car makers must ensure that their new models pass the UN’s minimum crash test regulations, and support use of an airbag.”
He further added, “We welcome Renault’s efforts to correct this and we look forward to testing another improved version with airbags. Renault has a strong record of achievement in safety in Europe and it should offer the same commitment to its customers in India.”
Renault India released an official statement that said, “GNCAP announced their results today and welcomed Renault’s efforts and commitment to safety enhancement. Safety is of paramount importance for Renault and all our products meet and exceed the requisite safety standards set by Indian Regulatory Authorities. India is gradually moving towards international safety norms by including more robust safety regulations and the assurance of the Bharat NCAP is a positive step in this direction. As a customer-focused company, Renault fully supports this initiative and we are already future-ready in terms of technology, design and engineering for enhanced safety for all our vehicles. Indian Government has announced that the crash test regulation for the existing cars will come into effect in 2019 and for the new cars in 2017 . Renault is committed to comply with these timelines.”
The trouble here is the fact that Renault says it is “future-ready in terms of technology”. If the company is already future-ready with compliant technologies, why isn't it implementing them in the current range of products? We’ll give you the answer, too — because they can, because they adhere to ‘existing safety standards and regulations’.
I’m not singling out Renault here; this is for all the manufacturers — why can’t they take onus and give the consumers something of great substance and value with its foundation set on basic safety levels? The consumers accept mediocre products because they’re being forced to. Let’s be honest here — the average consumers don't really keep track of the best or most recent automotive technology or safety trends. It is up to the manufacturers to make them aware through their products. The world is screaming about driverless cars and whatnot, but what we should be focusing on — especially in an extremely cost and value sensitive country like India, which is poised to become one of the global pillars for the industry over the next decade — is enhanced safety and efficient transportation.
In this latest report, Global NCAP has focussed on the cars that fall in the category of most popular and highest selling in India. What’s greatly intriguing is the failure of Mahindra Scorpio. A default image of masculinity — which gives an underlying sense of safety on a perceptive level — the Scorpio failed on the scientific measures. Interestingly, the Maruti Suzuki Celerio is a global product and received a 3-star rating in its Euro NCAP crash test a couple of years ago — that gives a crucial comparative data between the locally manufactured Celerio's against its global model and clearly shows that the Indian model is greatly compromised.
The occupants in all the crash tests conducted here include a driver and an adult passenger, while seated at the rear are dummies representing an 18-month old child, and a 3-year old child. Furthermore, all the occupant dummies are wearing seat belts.
Now, how often do you see people in India wearing seat belts? In the urban centres, because the seat belts are mandatory and attract a fine, people do put them on — but only the front passengers. The rear passengers, even in the urban areas, don’t care to wear the seat belts. And in the semi-urban and lower cities, even the front passengers don't much care for them. So imagine — if the impact of the crash could have such an adverse effect on the belted passengers, what would be the magnitude of injuries suffered by the driver and the passengers if they weren't belted? It could be fatal.
According to Global NCAP, the test results for each car were described as —
“The new Kwid without an airbag scored zero stars in the adult occupant protection and two stars in child occupant protection. The structure did not collapse however it was rated as unstable and that it could not withstand further loadings. It was possible to see the structural reinforcements implemented in this version of the Kwid but when Global NCAP checked the left (passenger) side, there were no reinforcements. The structure was reinforced only on the driver side.
The new Kwid with the addition of driver airbag was also tested. This version also scored zero stars in the adult occupant protection and two stars in child occupant protection. The structure was the same as the new KWID without airbags but a high compression in the dummy chest area explains the low score.”
“Mahindra Scorpio scored zero stars in the adult occupant protection and two stars in child occupant protection. The collapse of the structure combined with the lack of airbags explains the score for the adult occupants protection which means that there is high probability of life threatening injuries for at least one of the adult passengers.”
Maruti Suzuki Eeco
“The non airbag Eeco scored zero stars in the adult occupant protection and one star in child occupant protection. The collapse of the structure in the passenger compartment and the lack of airbags explained the poor result in adult occupant protection. This model does not offer optional airbags. Considering the structural collapse airbags are not likely to help avoid life threatening injuries to the driver.”
“The Hyundai Eon is offered in the standard version without airbags. It scored zero stars in the adult occupant protection and two stars in child occupant protection. The unstable structure in the passenger compartment and the lack of airbags explained the poor result in adult occupant protection.”
Maruti Suzuki Celerio
“The non airbag Maruti Suzuki Celerio scored zero stars in adult occupant protection and one star in child occupant protection. The lack of airbags explained the poor result in adult occupant protection.
The low score in child occupant protection is explained by the high values recorded in the 3 year old child dummy as well as its forward excursion beyond the accepted limits.”