Many Models Fail New Latin NCAP Crash Tests
By Chris Haak
The US, Europe, and Australia have had new-car crash-test regimes for decades. While people may complain about the cost of new cars, as well as their weight and complexity, it’s very difficult to argue with the results. In 1949, there were fewer US highway fatalities than there were in 2010, but in the ensuing six decades, the US population more than doubled and the miles driven grew dramatically. In 1949, there were 7.13 traffic deaths per 100 million miles driven. By 2010, that figure plummeted to just 1.09 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles driven. In Latin America, however, the story isn’t so rosy.
According to the New York Times, occupant safety in the top 20-selling models in Latin America is well behind the common standards in North America, Europe, and Australia. The new Latin NCAP (New Car Assessment Program) crash tests are very similar to NCAP tests done elsewhere in the world, and involve striking a fixed barrier at 40 miles per hour with an offset impact. Offset crashes are more common than full-frontal crashes, and are much harder to defend against injury-wise because full crash forces can only be absorbed by half of the car’s frontal area. Note that US NHTSA’s crash tests are done at 35 miles per hour and are *not* offset crashes. However, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in the US does 40 mph offset crashes.
In a world where four- and five-star crash-test results are commonplace, it’s startling to see one- and two-star results from cars that are sold in serious volumes in Latin America. Two reasons are at play here, both due to cost considerations. First, 8 of the 20 cars tested did not have any airbags. Zero. The US-sold Chevy Cruze has 10 of them. Second, these cars are, in most cases, built using obsolete technology and lower-cost materials.
According to the World Health Organization, the Latin American region already has the highest per-capita death rate from motor vehicle crashes, and as the middle classes grow in these countries and car ownership becomes an option, it’s likely that the death rates will continue to climb, unless something is done about vehicle safety.
One action might be to mandate airbags. Though many of the cars tested by Latin NCAP did have airbags (12 of 20), in several models they are optional. The three best-performing cars, the Chevrolet Cruze (3 stars), Ford Focus Style (4 stars) and Nissan Tiida (4 stars) are versions of cars sold recently (or currently) in the US. (The exception is the Focus, which appears on Ford’s Brazilian website to be the previous-generation Euro Focus, not the new global focus sold in Europe and the US today). Note also that the Nissan Tiida is, of course, sold in the US as the Versa.
Guess which country sourced the worst performer on the list? China, of course – and China does have an NCAP-like crash-test regime after embarrassments such as the Brilliance BS6. The worst performer here is the Geely CK1 1.3, which got zero stars for adult safety. Zero point zero.
Brazil is already the world’s fourth-largest car market, and is on its way to becoming the third-largest), with the country expected to overtake Japan within five years, and behind only the US and China. This means that there will be a ton of new cars on the roads there – and new drivers in those cars. If Brazil hopes to have a healthy – and exporting – auto industry, it would behoove them to regulate the construction of safer cars today.