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Kia fares poorly in global crash safety rating, highlights dual standards of MNC carmakers for India

Kia Carens and Seltos score 3-star Global NCAP rating; South Korean carmaker joins other foreign automobile companies whose products for India score poor safety ratings. Global NCAP says it’s "a cause for concern"

June 26, 2022 / 01:07 PM IST
Representative Image

Representative Image

The India-built Kia Carens was the latest car to be crash tested by Global NCAP as part of its “SaferCarsForIndia” initiative. To date, Global NCAP has conducted 54 safety tests of cars sold and manufactured in India, an initiative that concluded with the testing of the Carens.

The Carens, Kia’s latest offering is a seven-seater MPV, and was tested for its most basic spec with six airbags (two frontal, two side body and two head protection airbags). However, the presence of six airbags didn’t do much to improve its safety rating, bringing into question the efficacy of the government’s proposed six airbag rule.

The Carens scored a 3-star rating in both adult and child occupant safety, primarily because of issues dealing with structural integrity, while providing only marginal safety to the driver’s chest and feet. The only other Kia model to have been tested — the Kia Seltos — also received a 3-star rating on similar grounds.

‘A Cause For Concern’

Alejandro Furas, the Secretary General of Global NCAP stated that while Kia providing six airbags as standard was a welcome move, the latest crash test rating was “a cause for concern” given that its cars receive a five star rating in other markets”.

Global NCAP, a not-for-profit organisation that sources and tests cars independently, in its base specification, also awarded the Mahindra XUV700 its “Safer Choice Award” for bagging a 5-star rating when it was tested in September. Of the four Mahindra vehicles tested by Global NCAP, two (XUV700 and XUV300) received a five-star rating while the other two (Thar and Marazzo) received a four-star rating, making Mahindra one of the most consistent brands in terms of safety, alongside Tata Motors whose cars such as the Punch, Altroz and Nexon secured a five-star rating while others such as the Tigor EV, Tiago and Zest bagged a four-star rating.

Kia Motors entered the Indian market with the Seltos, which proved very popular despite receiving a 3-star safety assessment. In international markets, however, the Seltos has fared better on safety parameters. The Australasian New Car ASsessment Programme (ANCAP) awarded the Seltos a 5-star rating, using a Seltos that was directly imported from South Korea to Australian markets. Its other bestsellers such as the Kia Sorento received a 5-star safety rating by Euro NCAP.

When contacted for comment regarding the discrepancy between the India-spec models’ safety levels and the international ones, Kia Motors India declined to comment.

The Kia Sportage, which received a 5-star safety rating by EuroNCAP for the European-spec model, received a zero-star rating in the Latin NCAP test, for the version sold in Latin America and the Caribbean markets.

Dual standards for India

But Kia is far from the only carmaker to have a less-than ideal safety rating for its India manufactured cars. Its parent company, Hyundai Motor India, which has been operating in the country since 1998, is also notorious for lower safety levels. The i20, which when tested by Global NCAP in 2022, received a 3-star rating. In comparison, the European spec i20, when tested by EuroNCAP in 2016, received a four-star rating, as did the model sold in Australia, when tested by ANCAP.

All Hyundai cars tested recently, including the Creta, i20 and Grand i10 Nios, are yet to breach the 3-star mark. Indeed, the Grand i10’s recent 2-star rating marks an improvement over its original zero star rating when tested in 2014, the year the Global NCAP’s SaferCarsForIndia initiative took off.

The same year, EuroNCAP awarded the European-spec i10 a solid 4-star rating. The abysmal ratings secured by bestsellers in the country including the i10, Maruti Suzuki Swift, Maruti Suzuki WagonR, Alto etc, is what prompted both carmakers and the central government to sit up and take notice of the woeful standards to which carmakers adhered to as far as the safety of Indian customers was concerned.

While the Korean carmakers stand out in this regard, they aren’t the only ones. However, it’s hard to ascertain the differences given that brands such as Jeep, Skoda and Volkswagen haven’t extensively been tested by GlobalNCAP.

The Volkswagen Polo, after initially having received a 0-star rating went on to secure a 4-star rating in a more recent test but wasn’t comparable to its international counterpart, as the model sold in Europe was a next-gen version based on the latest MQB platform. Similarly, other bestsellers such as the Hyundai Creta do not have a European or American counterpoint because they aren’t sold in those markets.

While the 2022 Hyundai Creta secured only a 3-star rating in India, according to Global NCAP, the India-built Creta secured a 4-star rating by LatinNCAP in 2015.

Why the discrepancy?

So what areas are these cars falling short? It’s telling that the Kia Carens despite having six airbags as standard failed to secure a five-star rating unlike the XUV700, which was tested with only two airbags. Upon launching the Carens, Kia highlighted its extensive active and passive safety features which include ABS (mandatory) and ESC (used in base-spec test vehicles).

While the Carens does boast other passive safety features such as hill-start assist (HAC), Vehicle Stability Management (VSM) etc, all of which are available on higher variants, it did so at the cost of structural safety, in order to meet its sub-Rs 10 lakh price cutoff and undercut the price of the competition.

The rear middle seat in the Carens also failed to provide a three-point safety belt for the occupant, going for a two-point belt instead. It’s much the same for the Creta and the Seltos, which were tested with two airbags as standard and both had an “unstable” body shell.

In comparison, the body shell of the Mahindra XUV700, with two airbags as standard, was rated “stable”. While airbags do mitigate the effects of a head-on collision, they simply cannot compensate for poor structural integrity of the shell, which comes primarily through the use of high-tensile steel, aluminium.

In the event of a crash, the shell is the first line of defence. Additional airbags such as side and curtain airbags do not play as much of a role in mitigating the effects of a frontal impact. In the event of a side collision, once again, safety comes down to highly stable and well-built shells, which can add to the vehicle’s overall costs.

So yes, cost is clearly the overriding factor in these decisions. Carmakers are wary of turning away potential customers due to a bump-up in prices.

Global NCAP’s “SaferCarsForIndia” initiative kicked-off in 2014 and has ever since, lobbied hard to make cars, and their crash safety criteria much stricter in India. As the campaign concludes, Global NCAP will be adopting a new, more stringent set of testing standards from next month. The President of the Towards Zero Foundation David Ward, whose program the Global NCAP is quoted as saying the “evolution of our testing requirements under the new protocols which come into effect from next month are intended to take the progress we have seen over the last eight years to the next level”.

What is the government doing?

On Friday, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari said he has approved the draft proposal for the soon-to-be-introduced Bharat NCAP safety assessment programme. Gadkari said on Twitter that the testing protocol for Bharat NCAP will be aligned with Global Crash Test Protocols allowing “OEMs to get their vehicles tested at India’s own in-house testing facilities”.

He also said this programme will, in addition to securing driver and passenger safety, “increase the export-worthiness of Indian automobiles”. The result of the six-airbag Carens serves to perfectly demonstrate that the government will also have to look at some sort of standardisation for structural integrity, instead of simply focusing on upping the airbag count.

Ward also took to Twitter to welcome Bharat NCAP as a new member of the NCAP family. The developments occur a week before the UN General Assembly’s “high-Level meeting” on global road safety under the theme “The 2030 horizon for road safety: securing a decade of action and delivery”, which will look at ways to halve the number of on-road fatalities by 2030. The meeting will take place from June 30 to July 1.
Parth Charan is a Mumbai-based writer who’s written extensively on cars for over seven years.
first published: Jun 26, 2022 12:30 pm