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Explained | Why does the Global NCAP safety test matter? And how safe are Indian cars?

Renault Triber’s latest crash test rating by Global NCAP is yet another milestone for India’s automotive safety norms.

June 02, 2021 / 04:19 PM IST
3D rendering of crash analysis (Source: ShutterStock)

3D rendering of crash analysis (Source: ShutterStock)

The executives and engineers at Renault India stand vindicated now that the Renault Triber has received an official rating of four stars for adult occupants in the latest Global NCAP test. The seven-seater MPV has also received a three-star rating for child occupants in a series of tests that evaluate crash safety in cars on a scale of zero to five stars. Global NCAP claims that it tested the most basic version of the Triber sold in the market, featuring only front and passenger airbags. In the recent past, Renault’s cars haven’t fared particularly well in crash tests, with the Kwid having scored only two stars in both adult and child occupant protection.

For the Triber – based on the Kwid’s platform – to receive a four-star rating from Global NCAP is a huge vote of confidence in the brand’s previously questionable safety standards. Especially considering the fact that the Triber, having sold 75,000 models in the last 21 months has given Renault a new lease on life in the Indian car market. Renault is also exporting the Triber to South Africa and the SAARC region.

There’s plenty of room for improvement, particularly in the child occupant protection category, which received only 3 stars. Even the body shell of the Triber was deemed unstable and incapable of withstanding further load, but for Renault, this puts their product on par with other locally-built cars like the Mahindra Thar and the VW Polo.

What is Global NCAP and how stringent are its tests?

Global NCAP is an independently governed, UK-based, charity organisation set up in 2011 primarily to evaluate and promote car safety in developing markets. Much like Euro NCAP, Japan NCAP, ASEAN NCAP etc, Global NCAP obtains these vehicles on its own (without sourcing it from manufacturers), setting its own criteria for crash-testing cars that is broadly in keeping with international guidelines adhered to by all the above-mentioned regulatory bodies.

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Its rating is given on a scale of zero to five stars and evaluates Adult Occupant and Child Occupant protection only. Pedestrian protection isn’t taken into account yet, although according to their website, the organisation wants “to see all new cars in production exceeding minimum United Nation crash test standards, for pedestrian protection, and for electronic stability control.”

Unlike Euro NCAP, which conducts full frontal, front offset, side impact and side pole tests, Global NCAP only conducts front offset crash tests that simulate head-on collisions only, with the test car being driven at 64kph.

The assessment protocol for their Adult Occupant Protection, according to the guidelines published by G-NCAP, states that the study logs dummy response data from frontal impact. Each relevant body area is given a score based on the measured impact, with specific criteria for the chest, knee, femur, pelvis, lower leg, neck etc. According to the assessment protocol, “no attempt is made to rate the risk of life-threatening injury any differently from the risk of disabling injury”.

At present, there still appear to be gaps between Euro NCAP and Global NCAP standards – a gap that the organisation appears to be closing. With more stringent measures set to be applied soon, Global NCAP is going to implement a new set of protocols. This would include side-impact tests on cars with a less than 5-star safety rating. The crash tests will also take into account features like Electronic Stability Control when evaluating a car’s safety rating, along with features like seat belt reminders without which a car cannot get a five-star safety rating. According to the Secretary General of Global NCAP, the new safety norms will be set to UN standards.

How well have made-in-India, made-for-India cars fared?

Global NCAP entered our national consciousness back in 2014 when its scathing assessment of locally built and locally designed Indian cars brought to light the frighteningly low safety standards of some of the country’s best selling cars. These came to include the likes of the Maruti Suzuki Swift, the Maruti Suzuki Alto, Renault Kwid, Maruti Suzuki Celerio, Datsun Go, Hyundai Eon and the Mahindra Scorpio – all of which received zero stars in both child and passenger safety ratings.

Global NCAP’s startling revelation forced Indian manufacturers to improve their safety tests. Mahindra, having taken into account the abysmal performance of its best selling SUV, really upped its safety game with the new Thar having secured a 4-star safety rating in both adult and child occupant protection. The body has also helped make several key safety features like dual airbags and ABS mandatory by law.

By making the conversation around vehicular safety prevalent across the country, G-NCAP prompted local car manufacturers like Tata Motors and Mahindra to edge ahead of the competition on the safety front. According to recent tests conducted by Global NCAP, the Mahindra XUV300 is the safest Indian car on the road, having achieved five stars for adult protection and four stars for child occupant protection, it’s followed closely by the Mahindra Thar, which received a four-star rating for both adult and child occupant protection, something that undoubtedly helped boost sales.

Cars like the Tata Nexon, Tata Tigor and Tata Tiago have also performed well, having received four stars for adult protection and three for child protection, across the range. It must be noted that the tests are conducted on the base variants of each model.

Even Maruti Suzuki, the worst-performing brand of the lot which has been vocally dismissive of Global NCAP’s safety criteria, had to take safety more seriously after a series of abysmal G-NCAP safety ratings for its top-sellers. While the brand is still lagging behind other cars in the safety department, the Maruti Suzuki Vitara Brezza did manage to crack the top ten safest Indian cars list put together by G-NCAP, preceded by the Toyota Etios, the Mahindra Marazzo and the Volkswagen Polo, in ascending order. Cars like the Maruti Suzuki Spresso, Hyundai Grand i10 Nios and the Kia Seltos continue to perform poorly.

How is Global NCAP different from the crash test standards set by the Indian government?

Global NCAP has undoubtedly prompted the Indian government to strengthen its own crash-testing requirements. In 2017, the Central Government mandated that passenger cars must have seat belt reminders, manual override, speed limit breach alarm as part of standard equipment. Furthermore, the government mandated that cars must have dual airbags (driver and passenger) ABS and seat-belt pretensioners as mandatory equipment. According to the Motor Vehicles Act of 2019, all existing cars sold after October 2019, were scheduled to clear the Bharat New Vehicle Safety Assessment Program (BNVSAP). The test, which is yet to be fully implemented, differs from Global NCAP in minor but crucial ways.

For starters, Indian’s governmental safety authority thus far tested cars at a standard speed of 56kph, although changes proposed by BNVSAP require that it be increased to 64kph. Unlike Global NCAP, the test aims to be more comprehensive and more in line with United Nations regulatory guidelines. As such, it aims to include side impact testing, pedestrian protection testing, rear impact testing and child dummy dynamic crash testing. Much like Global NCAP, additional points will be awarded to a car based on safety features like ABS, seat belt reminders, child lock and Electronic Stability Control.

India’s automotive safety norms still need plenty of work. While BNVSAP continues to be a work in progress, with crash test facilities being set up, Global NCAP continues to struggle with testing a wide range of Indian vehicles, chiefly due to budgetary constraints. With BNVSAP’S proposed safety protocols set to be in line with international ones, the discrepancy between the safety levels of Indian cars and those sold internationally is likely to become much smaller in the future. And Global NCAP is in no small part responsible for catalysing such change.
Parth Charan is a Mumbai-based writer who’s written extensively on cars for over seven years.
first published: Jun 2, 2021 03:21 pm

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