All five small cars popular on the Indian market last year, including the famous Tata Nano and the Hyundai i10, failed the crash tests performed by London car-safety watchdog Global NCAP (New Car Assessment Programme).
The cars that were tested 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 - 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 Germany for the tests. One crash test was performed at 56 kmph, the other at 64 kmph.
All five cars failed the test, landing a zero on a scale of 1-5.
Representatives from each manufacturer were invited to witness the test, and the results have been shared with them all too. Automakers said the issue of car safety is complex, involving not just passenger safety, but also the safety of those outside the car. That means cars need to handle well and drivers must be educated about the rules of the road, and roads should be in good condition.
As NDTV's Automobiles Editor, I was consulted on which cars should be tested. 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?
India's growing middle class has helped fuel a booming auto industry, making the country the world's sixth-largest car market. But 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.
Given those grizzly statistics, it is staggering to think India is the only country in the world's top ten car markets that does not have a comprehensive testing programme that measures the safety of cars.
Reactions from car-makers:
"Tata Motors sees safety as a priority, and is going to closely review the results of the Global NCAP test, before drawing any conclusions vis-a-vis its product strategy. However all its cars do meet all Indian safety regulations as mandated by the government, at this time."
"Safety is one of the higher priorities in the design of our vehicles. Our vehicles consistently meet or exceed applicable industry standards. We are monitoring the progress of this review."
"At Volkswagen, we recognise this need, given increasing driving speeds, more women drivers, longer driving times and a younger driver. Therefore, we have decided to have front dual airbags as standard on the Polo, as our continuing commitment to safer and better driving. We are the first automaker in India to do so, making the Polo the safest premium hatchback in the market today."
HYUNDAI MOTOR INDIA
"Hyundai Motor India Ltd affirms that Hyundai vehicles are designed and build to meet all the prescribed safety standards set by Indian Regulatory Authorities."
RAO, HEAD OF R&D, MARUTI SUZUKI INDIA
"In India we had been basing our own safety regulations from European regulations, however based on Indian market situation and Indian road conditions and usage conditions we have been fine tuning the regulations. The global NCAP may not match our own requirements in India, so I SIAM is in discussions with the ministry of road transport and heavy industry to work on a new vehicle appraisal system which will work on this for all NCAP for India. Taking into consideration how vehicles are being used in India not only in terms of features but small issues like the usage of rear seats is also equally important in India unlike other countries. So all these factors have to be considered and also the accident analysis has to really access what is actually causing the accident.