Made-in-India cars crash tested for the first time
Nearly 140,000 people die on Indian roads every year, in nearly five lakh accidents. That’s the worst road safety record in the world. And these are just the official figures, with some estimates claiming the real numbers to be twice as high. India is currently the world’s 6th largest car market, and is expected to cross Germany to become the 4th largest by 2020.
In such a scenario, it is staggering to think India is the only country in the global top ten car markets which does not have a comprehensive and complete car safety regulation or testing programme. Global NCAP (New Car Assessment Programme) is a car safety programme which evaluates new automobile designs for performance against various safety threats. Last year Global NCAP decided to carry out a test on some of India’s best selling cars, in partnership with India’s Institute of Road Traffic Education (IRTE). The idea was to assess the safety levels of some of the country’s most popular small cars.
Having been party to the process, and indeed consulted on which cars the test must include, I think the final list provides a good representation of a large chunk of the Indian car market. The cars that were chosen were the Tata Nano, Maruti Suzuki Alto 800, Hyundai i10, Ford Figo and Volkswagen Polo. All cars had to be made-in-India models only, and the most basic or entry-level version available in the market was selected for testing. This meant none of them had airbags as standard – one of the most basic prerequisites globally to pass a safety test.
There were two tests carried out on identical cars of the same make – meaning two of each car were procured by Global NCAP from Indian showrooms, and shipped to Landsberg, Germany for the tests. The United Nations Regulation 94 – a crash test carried out at 56 kmph, and the Latin NCAP 2013 assessment protocol, where the car is crashed at 64 kmph. All the manufacturers involved, as well as the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) were informed of these tests, before they were held. Representatives from each manufacturer were also invites to witness the test, and the results are being shared with them all too.
Of the five cars, only the Figo and Polo showed good structural rigidity and therefore a safer cabin, while the smaller cars performed rather poorly. What is rather surprising to me is that a car like the Hyundai i10 – which is only made in India for global markets, also did badly. The made-in-India for export to Europe i10 has a good rating in its Euro NCAP test for instance, which begs the question – are the cars for Indian buyers made differently?
While I urge you to watch our exclusive video to really understand how the test results are to be interpreted, and indeed to see the crash test visuals too – the larger point is this: Should India have its own NCAP? The logical answer is yes. But who should set this up? Should it be a foreign body, the government or the industry itself? I think the best solution is to have a programme that is jointly set up by all three. This ensures complete transparency, global standards and also a sure rise in safety benchmarks across segments. The consumer will certainly benefit from this, and hopefully this would also result in fewer fatalities. But in the meanwhile, what I hope this maiden test does for the market – is simply increase awareness. It’s really only when the consumer asks for safer, stronger cars – that the industry will deliver. It is the excuse the manufacturers often offer, when questioned on why they don’t offer greater safety equipment – the consumer isn’t asking for it. Well, I believe it is now high time that we did.