In the wake of the front impact tests conducted by the UK-based Global NCAP revealing less than adequate safety features in the base models of a number of popular cars sold in the country, the key defence mounted by the top three carmakers was that all of their models has a top variant that is equipped with safety features such as airbags, anti-lock braking system (ABS) and rear wipers.
There are two bubbles in this theory, though. Three of the five cars that were tested — the Maruti Suzuki Alto 800, the Tata Nano and the Hyundai i10 — were found to have “inadequate vehicle structures that collapsed to varying degrees”, resulting in high risks of life-threatening injuries to the occupants, according to the study.
The extent of the structural weaknesses in these models were such that fitting airbags would not be effective in reducing the risk of serious injury, NCAP’s detailed findings show. The argument of safety features being there in the top models, therefore, does not hold water, considering that the structure itself needs reinforcement.
The second issue is that of the key safety options not being made available by the manufacturers. While the top models do incorporate most of the safety features that include frontal airbags, ABS and rear wipers, these safety options come bundled with alloy wheels, extra chrome or wood finish, leather seats, high-end stereos and other trim, which jacks up the price of the top variant and thereby limits customer option.
The IIT Delhi’s Transportation Research & Injury Prevention Programme (TRIPP) did a survey of sale prices of all car models on the road in India in 2013 and found that a car buyer has to spend an extra Rs 1 lakh or more to buy the same model vehicle that incorporates these safety options.
According to Dinesh Mohan, Volvo Chair Professor Emeritus at IIT Delhi, industry estimates suggest that safety features such as the airbag, ABS, and rear windshield wipers can be provided for about Rs 15,000. The NCAP test — the first ever independent one that tested Indian cars — was conducted by the UK-based body