This is serious article and a serious issue. We earnestly request all our discerning readers to voice their opinions via comments to let the industry and the government understand the importance of the matter
Recently, Global NCAP* crash tested the Indian Swift and the Datsun Go for all they’re worth. The result was a shocking ZERO star rating. In frontal collision tests of up to 64 km/hr, the Swift’s and Go’s crash analysis showed the crash-test-dummies having sustained near-fatal injuries, more so in the case of the driver, questioning the car’s structural integrity.
Global NCAP’s testing protocol mandates that all cars (including base variants) must carry at least airbags and ABS to get its certification. The Indian Swift and the Datsun GO has neither as standard, but Maruti and most other manufacturers proudly insist that they are optional extras.
About nine months ago, the India spec VW Polo, Hyundai i10, Suzuki Alto 800 and Tata Nano all got the same ZERO crash safety stars, which brings us to the question – Why are Indians always taken for granted when it comes to ensuring vehicular safety?
Picking a leaf from those results, Volkswagen India and Toyota India have made sure that all their cars sold in India come with airbags as a standard fitment (even the basic Polo/Etios Liva sells with dual airbags as standard). This was an example of being a matured, responsible and driven manufacturer who values the lives of their clientele, rather than just filling up their coffers by scrapping the bottom end of the economy car chain clean. And in the process, skimping out on safety related necessities, just because the Government barely bothers to intervene.
While VW have admitted their complacence and made amends, Maruti doesn’t really warm up to the idea that their cars are unsafe. When prodded about this issue by Autocar Professional, Maruti claims that all their products meet adequate safety regulations whether in India or abroad, rubbishing Global NCAP ratings as a mere marketing tool for manufacturers to strut their vehicles in the market.
We beg to differ, as the similar Indian made Latin American Swift got just 3 stars in spite of being equipped with airbags and ABS, indicating inferior structural construction more than anything else. In comparison, the European Swift, produced at Suzuki’s Esztergom plant in Hungary achieved a commendable 5 stars.
Why a similar body shell is better endowed just because of its European intents? India does account for countless deaths on the road every year/day, but that doesn’t mean life doesn’t have any value here. Manufacturers just can’t blatantly share that sentiment and keep producing flimsy, erratic volume cars which break their spine at the drop of a hat.
When asked if the Swift’s miserable safety rating will affect its image in the market, here’s what Mr. C V Raman, Executive Director — engineering, Maruti Suzuki had to say:
“No, why? It is a rating. Like fuel efficiency. I have 16 kmpl and I have 20 kmpl. I have a range of vehicles. A 16 kmpl is say (like) 0 star, a 20 kmpl is 5 star. So there is a band in between. It is a choice that is available to the customer. Please understand. That is the difference. Safety is also like that. If an offset norm is there, does it mean that the vehicle is unsafe? I don’t think so. Absolutely not. It is not at all the right measure.”
If you can make head or tail of such a preposterous reply, let us know. We’re pretty miffed.
More than the applications of ABS and airbags, the inferior, developing-country-specific build quality of Indian made cars leads to poor structural integrity, which makes them less crash worthy. When the Datsun Go hit the barrier at 64 km/hr at Global NCAP’s facilities, the inferior, flimsy structure of the car just gave way, the seats folded, the dash moved in by about a foot into the cabin and the crash dummy slammed into the steering wheel. Global NCAP says that no amount of airbags could save the occupants in such a terribly built car, and also issued a statement invoking Nissan India to stop selling the Go in India right away.
To sell in hordes in this beloved country of ours, stuff needs to cheap and cheaply built cars will always be unsafe. One has to pay to feel safe, and with ABS/airbag equipped volume cars having a poor 5 percent to 10 percent market penetration, the manufacturers conveniently produce stripped down cars with smaller price tags which lures the ignorant customers more effectively.
So it all boils down to human awareness as a generation and us actually collectively demanding our safety from them manufacturers-because we’re worth it. Apart from standardization of both ABS and airbags, the Government needs to regulate the structural integrity of a car in India, which shouldn’t differ at all from its European/American counterpart. The industry and the government needs to take a collective stand here. Buying well-equipped sturdy cars will be more painful monetarily, but at least it won’t kill or cripple you for life.
Light at the end of the tunnel
With the announcement of these appalling ratings, the Indian chapter of the New Car Assessment Program, Bharat New Car Assessment Program (Bharat NCAP) was launched on 5th November 2014, joining Existing New Car Assessment Programs which include NHTSA (United States), ANCAP (Australia & New Zealand), IIHS (United States), JNCAP (Japan), Euro NCAP (EU 27), KNCAP (South Korea), C-NCAP (China), Latin NCAP (Latin America & the Caribbean) and ASEAN NCAP (South East Asian Nations).
More conclusively, from October 2017, a new regulatory body called the Bharat New Vehicle Safety Assessment Programme (BNVSAP) will be set up to ensure that all Indian made vehicles provide basic safety in line with global standards for adult occupants, children and pedestrians. In the next 4-5 years, new safety norms are expected to be up and running which include frontal crash test norms at 56 kmph, mandatory ABS, seat belt reminder and child lock functionality check- whatever happened to airbags here?
But anyways, at least it’s a start and the implementation is expected to begin after three years since automobile manufacturers need lead time for transition. Also, all new models will supposedly get a mandatory star rating and facilities for different crash tests will be in place by March 2015 by National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure Project.
*What is Global NCAP?
The Global New Car Assessment Programme (Global NCAP) is a nonprofit organization registered in the United Kingdom that aims to meet this challenge by encouraging the worldwide availability of independent consumer information about the safety of motor vehicles. Apart from being funded by FIA (Foundation for the Automobile and Society) and International Consumer Research and Testing, Global NCAP is a member of the UN Road Safety Collaboration and supports the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020.