Models representing 20-percent of Indian car market score zero stars in Global NCAP testing

In Canada and much of the rest of the industrialized, first world, we expect the vehicles we drive to provide at least basic protection in the event of a crash. Stronger passenger structures, standard airbags (of which we usually get front, front seat-mounted side, and curtain airbags on almost every vehicle), and even safety features such as traction control are common place and required by many governments all over the world.

However, in India, things are very different.

Global NCAP, a charity based in the United Kingdom, tested India’s five most popular cars in basic testing: Volkswagen Polo, Maruti Suzuki Alto 800, Ford Figo, Hyundai i10, and Tata Nano. All cars were tested in base-model spec, meaning none were equipped with airbags.

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As you may have been able to predict, the results are absolutely shocking. Not a single vehicle tested was able to score even one star in the frontal impact test at 64km/h. In the less stringent UN standard test – a 40% offset frontal impact test at 56km/h – only the Ford Figo was given a pass, though narrowly, among non-airbag equipped models.

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In response to the results, Volkswagen has agreed to remove their non-airbag equipped Polo from the Indian market. Global NCAP then tested the airbag-equipped Polo and it was given a four-star rating.

Interestingly, India does manufacture vehicles for export that perform much better than those sold locally, so it’s not a matter of knowledge or expertise in building these vehicles. As automakers try to make their models cheaper and cheaper for emerging markets, safety takes a back seat to the bottom line.

Speaking of the back seat, Global NCAP also tested child seats in the rear row of each vehicle. The Tata Nano received zero stars as the manufacturer recommended seat wouldn’t even install correctly.

Full release and images below.


Crash tests show India’s cars are unsafe

Delhi, India – The first-ever independent crash tests of some of India’s popular and important small cars have shown a high-risk of life threatening injuries in road crashes. All the cars selected by Global NCAP for testing in a frontal impact at 64km/h received zero-star adult protection ratings.

The models tested included India’s best-selling car, the Suzuki-Maruti Alto 800. The Tata Nano, Ford Figo, Hyundai i10 and Volkswagen Polo also underwent the safety assessment. Combined sales of these five cars account for around 20% of all the new cars sold in India last year. Global NCAP chose the entry-level version of each model and as a result none were fitted with airbags as standard. The results highlight major differences in the structural integrity of the vehicles tested.

Max Mosley, Chairman of Global NCAP, said: “India is now a major global market and production centre for small cars, so it’s worrying to see levels of safety that are 20 years behind the five-star standards now common in Europe and North America. Poor structural integrity and the absence of airbags are putting the lives of Indian consumers at risk. They have a right to know how safe their vehicles are and to expect the same basic levels of safety as standard as customers in other part of the world.”

In the Suzuki-Maruti Alto 800, the Tata Nano and the Hyundai i10, the vehicle structures proved inadequate and collapsed to varying degrees, resulting in high risks of life-threatening injuries to the occupants. 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. The Ford Figo and Volkswagen Polo had structures that remained stable – and, therefore, with airbags fitted, protection for the driver and front passenger would be much improved.

Coinciding with the Global NCAP tests, Volkswagen has decided to withdraw the non-airbag version of the Polo from sale in India. Because of this, Global NCAP agreed to a request from VW to assess a version of the Polo that has two airbags fitted as standard as from now. Other manufacturers had the same opportunity. The protection proved much better and this airbag-equipped model received a four-star rating for adult occupant protection. Consumers are encouraged to check which version of the Polo they buy.

Models also fail to pass UN’s basic safety test
Global NCAP also assessed the same models against the UN’s basic crash test. This 40% offset frontal impact test at 56km/h is now widely applied by major manufacturing countries and regions, including Australia, China, European Union, Japan and Malaysia. The Global Plan for the UN’s Decade of Action for Road Safety recommends that all Member States apply this standard, although it is not yet applied in India. All but one of the cars tested failed to pass even this minimum standard.

Please note:
• Ford Figo passed despite not having a driver airbag when the dummy’s head narrowly avoided hitting the steering wheel directly
• Volkswagen Polo with two airbags was awarded a pass based on dummy readings from the 64km/h crash

Taken together the results highlight the vital combination of both sound structural integrity and airbags as standard equipment. These features are the sure way to exceed the minimum UN crash test standard at 56km/h. They also offer adequate levels of protection in a higher speed crash at 64km/h, the speed most commonly used by independent consumer crash test programmes.

Rohit Baluja, President of India’s Institute of Road Traffic Education (IRTE) said: “These results show that India would benefit enormously from the introduction of minimum crash safety standards and clearer information for consumers about the protection new cars offer. Many cars made in India for export meet these standards already, so it’s not a question of know-how or capability: India’s automobile industry just needs the right incentives. With the UN’s minimum safety standards and clear information for consumers, India can produce cars that are every bit as good as those in Europe and the US.”

Global NCAP has awarded a separate child safety rating to each car in order to highlight the different levels of protection vehicles provide to passengers on the rear seats. Because the only safe way for young children to travel is properly restrained in a child seat, the assessment checks how compatible the car is with the child seats recommended by the manufacturer, as well as the protection provided in the crash.

In the assessments, the child seats recommended by manufacturers were often found to be incompatible with their vehicle’s belt system. In the Tata Nano, there was no three-point seatbelt on the rear seats and no way to install a child seat or transport a small child safely.

“Vehicle manufacturers understand how important it is for young children to travel buckled up in a child seat that’s installed securely on the rear seat,” said David Ward, Secretary-General of Global NCAP. “They know what they need to do to make it as easy as possible for parents: it’s just a question of priorities. Indian families buying these cars expect their children to be given the same protection as children in other parts of the world.”

Comments on individual vehicles’ adult protection

Suzuki-Maruti Alto 800
In the 64km/h NCAP test, the Suzuki-Maruti Alto 800 achieved a zero-star rating for its adult occupant protection. The vehicle structure was rated as unstable, increasing the risk of life-threatening injuries and making the car unsuitable for the fitment of airbags.

Using the child seats recommended by Suzuki-Maruti, the Alto 800 achieved a two-star rating for child protection.

The Alto 800 was not able to meet the UN’s minimum safety requirements in the 56km/h crash test.

Tata Nano
In the 64km/h NCAP test, the Tata Nano achieved zero stars rating for its adult occupant protection. The vehicle structure was rated as unstable, increasing the risk of life-threatening injuries and making the car unsuitable for the fitment of airbags.

The car achieved a zero-star rating for its child protection as it was not possible to install child seats in the car.

The Nano was not able to meet the UN’s minimum safety requirements in the 56km/h crash test.

Hyundai i10
In the 64km/h NCAP test, the Hyundai i10 achieved a zero-star rating for its adult occupant protection. The vehicle structure was rated as unstable, increasing the risk of life-threatening injuries.

Using the child seats recommended by Hyundai, the i10 achieved a one-star rating for child protection. The three year-old dummy indicated a high risk of serious injury.

The i10 was not able to meet the UN’s minimum safety requirements in the 56km/h crash test.

Ford Figo
In the 64km/h NCAP test, the Ford Figo achieved a zero-star rating for its adult occupant protection. The vehicle structure was rated as stable, but without safety equipment such as airbags, too much of the crash energy was absorbed directly by the occupants.

Using the child seats recommended by Ford, the car achieved a two-star rating for its child protection.

The Figo was able to meet the UN’s minimum safety requirements in the 56km/h crash test as the driver’s head narrowly avoided direct contact with the steering wheel.

Volkswagen Polo
In the 64km/h NCAP test, the Volkswagen Polo without airbags achieved a zero-star rating for its adult occupant protection. The vehicle structure was stable, but without safety equipment such as airbags, dummy readings indicated a high risk of life-threatening injuries.

With two airbags (driver and front passenger), the Volkswagen Polo achieved a four-star rating for adult occupant protection in the 64km/h NCAP test. Thanks to the airbags, the protection offered to the driver and passenger head and neck was good.

Using the child seats recommended by Volkswagen, the Polo achieved a three-star rating for child protection.

Without airbags, the Polo was not able to meet the UN’s minimum safety requirements in the 56km/h crash test.

Global NCAP advises consumers to check carefully which version of the Polo they buy.




About Mark Stevenson

Mark Stevenson is a former IT professional turned freelance automotive writer and news editor for Autos.ca. He's a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada and former member of the Texas Automotive Writers Association (TAWA). Mark spends an inordinate amount of time on motorcycles and resides in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia with his two dogs - Nismo and Maloo. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.