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What The Stars Foretell?

For cars and UVs (utility vehicles) there are five key parameters – crash, seat belts and anchorages, electronic stability control, pedestrian protection and autonomous emergency braking systems, covering both active and passive safety systems.

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The global NCAP “Safe Cars For India 2020” test report is a bit like a cat amongst pigeons for the entire automotive fraternity. Just when the automakers got over the lockdown and the business seemed looking up, came this ranking of how passenger four-wheelers sold in India scored on the two aspects of adult occupant and child occupant safety in the situation of a crash. 

Each aspect gives the maximum of five stars. Every vehicle tested gets a score against both the aspects. The Global NCAP (New Car Assessment Program) website shares the test results of seven vehicles – two each from Tata and Mahindra and one each from Maruti Suzuki, Hyundai and Kia – all manufactured in 2020. 

The Tata and Mahindra vehicles scored much better than the others. While the Altroz and XUV-300 scored full five stars on adult occupant safety, the S-presso scored zero, Grand i10 Nios scored two, and Seltos scored three! 

Shucks! So, what do the stars foretell? 

Are “Indian” vehicles safer than “foreign” ones? 

Are we being palmed off unsafe cars to sell them cheap? 

Who is Global NCAP? And why these tests? 

Do they have any hidden agenda? How do these tests differ from our existing standards? 

Is safety only about surviving a crash? How does this affect customer choice? 

The one positive outcome of this report is that vehicle safety as a key feature has been brought to the forefront. On print, television, and in social media. Global NCAP is a private organisation with the mission of pushing greater safety built into vehicles. They have taken the UN crash test regulations as the reference for the minimum standards all automakers must meet and exceed.

For cars and UVs (utility vehicles) there are five key parameters – crash [frontal and side impact], seat belts and anchorages, electronic stability control, pedestrian protection and autonomous emergency braking systems, covering both active and passive safety systems. Global NCAP mandates that the first four parameters must be met by 2020. 

Global NCAP typically picks up the entry level variant of each vehicle for testing. Additionally, an automaker might want another variant to be tested too, against a cost. While Indian crash test standards are measured at 56 kmph, they test at 64 kmph. 

This leads to some automakers not accepting the Global NCAP results as they are different from the safety norms set for India by the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways. We do not have any comprehensive set of standards as yet. The proposed Bharat New Vehicle Safety Assessment Programme is yet to be announced. 

The current test results do not prove that Indian vehicle brands are any saf er than others. The vehicles tested in 2020 actually belong to different segments. The S-presso cannot be compared with the Altroz or even i10 Nios. 

However, the key conclusions we can draw from these tests are that safety features like dual front airbags, seat-belt pretensioners and ISOfix anchorages are must-haves in every vehicle, right from the entry level variant. Also, body shell integrity should be reassessed as crash impacts are at higher velocity due to higher driving speeds. 

While one may argue that vehicles in India need more active safety systems like better steering, stability control and visibility, in reality our chaotic driving habits and infrastructure necessitate minimum passive systems. Safety is about both avoiding accidents as well as surviving them. There is no option here but an inevitable balance to tackle both situations.

What is certainly encouraging is that all the new vehicles off the Tata and Mahindra stables are world-class in safety. This makes them perfectly poised to play a bigger role in global markets. A Suzuki, Hyundai and Kia have global operations, and thus know exactly what it takes to meet with safety standards in different markets. To keep selling prices down they obviously prefer just meeting the present standards rather than pushing for raising the bar! 

Will these test reports influence consumer choice? Unfortunately, not yet. Safety is still not as important as fuel efficiency or air-conditioning. People still fuss about wearing seatbelts. That is why it is the responsibility of the automakers to incorporate a minimum safety package as standard, across all categories and segments of cars and UVs. 

That is the only agenda that matters!  

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Avik Chattopadhyay

The author is an auto industry consultant and cofounder of Expereal.

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