India-made small cars lag rivals in global safety tests

The safety standards of some India-made small cars fall far short of global requirements, research has found, exacerbating the woes of a market already weakened by sluggish domestic demand.

Weak structures and a lack of airbags meant that five Indian cars were awarded zero out of a possible five stars – the lowest possible rating in an independent crash test conducted by the Global New Car Assessment Programme (NCAP), a safety and testing organisation.

The research included entry-level models from Maruti Suzuki, Tata, Ford, Hyundai and Volkswagen, which together accounted for a fifth of all new cars sold in India last year, according to the Global NCAP.

“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,” said Max Mosley, chairman of the organisation.

Global automotive groups have flocked to India in recent years, drawn by the prospect of a fast growing local market and lower cost production. But as domestic demand slows, car manufacturers have targeted exports to boost sales, highlighting the difference in safety standards at home and abroad.

“Indian companies that are exporting definitely meet standards,” said Deepesh Rathore, director of Emerging Markets Automotive Advisors, a New Delhi-based research group.

“Most of the cars that perform miserably in these crash tests are cars that are specifically designed for the Indian markets or have been around in the market for a long time.”

While local sales of India-made passenger cars fell 9.6 per cent year-on-year in 2013 to 1.8m units, exports grew 3.5 per cent to 561,591 units, according to data from the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers, the trade body.

Many entry-level models sold in India do not come fitted with airbags and safety features are offered at a premium. Volkswagen has withdrawn its non-airbag Polo model and when fitted with two airbags the vehicle received four stars on Global NCAP’s crash test, which is conducted at 64km per hour.

The structure of the Maruti Alto 800, however, was deemed so weak that airbags would not reduce the risk of severe injury in a crash, Global NCAP said. Tata’s Nano, marketed as the world’s cheapest car, received a zero-star rating for child safety as child seats could not be fitted in the vehicle.

“All our vehicles, including the Tata Nano, meet all Indian safety regulations, including the frontal barrier crash test at 48km per hour, as mandated by the government,” said Tim Leverton from the engineering research centre at Tata Motors.

There were 18.9 road traffic deaths per 100,000 people in India in 2010, according to the World Health Organisation’s latest figures – more than other middle income countries in the region such as Sri Lanka’s 13.7, but better than China and Brazil with 20.5 and 22.5, respectively.

Source: FT


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