Why “very safe” cars in Europe aren’t as safe in India?

About a year ago, the Global NCAP came out with a startling report. Some of India’s biggest selling cars such as the Maruti Suzuki Alto, the Swift and the Hyundai i10 were patently unsafe cars, it averred. The report was scathing when it came to the body structures of many of these cars, calling them unstable. In a nutshell, it went on to allude that if the car’s body structure in itself is unstable, even having airbags won’t save you in a crash. But the same cars sold in Europe got 5 Star ratings from the Euro NCAP. So, what gives? We explain!

India-spec Maruti Swift’s Global NCAP Rating

Swift 1 Swift 2

Let’s consider the Maruti Suzuki Swift, a car that is sold both in Europe and India. In Europe, it gets a 5 Star Euro NCAP rating. Global NCAP, on the other hand, has given the Swift a “zero” star rating, going on to call its body structure unstable. So, what does the Euro spec Swift have that the Indian Swift doesn’t?

Firstly, a stronger body structure. Now, car makers could compromise on the body structure by using a thinner or weaker gauge of steel for the car’s construction. A prime example of this is the Swift. While the Indian Swift’s body structure is said to be unstable, that of the car sold in Europe isn’t.

Euro spec Suzuki Swift’s Euro NCAP Rating

Euro Swift 1 Euro Swift 2

Secondly, the safety features on offer also make a big difference. In Europe, the Swift gets a full complement of six airbags, ESP and ABS+EBD. Some of these features not only protect after a crash, while others prevent the crash from happening altogether. In India though, only 2 airbags and ABS+EBD are offered, even on the top-end variant of the Swift. Yet, the Swift sells more than any other B-Segment hatchback in India.

And with such statements coming from the powers that be at Maruti Suzuki, things don’t look very encouraging until the government steps in. The government plans to step in, and this is how it plans to make Indian cars safer. All this could take a few years though, by which time many more people would be dead due to the poor safety standards of some of the best selling Indian cars.

India spec Hyundai i10’s Global NCAP Rating

i10 1 i10 2

It isn’t only Maruti Suzuki and the Swift that can be blamed. Other car makers such as Hyundai also sell cars which, according to Global NCAP, are sub-par when compared with the same cars that they sell globally. Take for instance, the Hyundai i10. Global NCAP rates the made-in-India i10’s body structure as unstable. The same car, which is made at Sriperumbudur and exported to Europe, gets a stable body structure and a 4 star rating for that part of the world.

Euro spec Hyundai i10’s Euro NCAP Rating

Euro i10 1 Euro i10 2

Now, car makers such as Maruti Suzuki and Hyundai may turn around and say, ‘our cars meet all Indian crash test safety norms’. But that’s not the point, really. The point is, these car makers are selling cars in India, which Global NCAP says don’t match up to the best standards followed in developed markets. Why? Perhaps because the laws in India aren’t strict enough. Is an Indian’s life less valuable than that of an European?

India spec Volkswagen Polo’s Global NCAP Rating

Polo 1 Polo 2

Some car makers have been proactive though. The made-in-India, non-airbag variants of the Volkswagen Polo and the Ford Figo tested by Global NCAP got zero star ratings. However, the body structures of these cars were pronounced to be stable under crash conditions. Volkswagen quickly got into damage control mode and did the right thing by equipping the Polo with twin airbags, across the range. Voila, a 4 star Global NCAP safety rating. The Volkswagen Polo sold in Europe gets a 5 Star rating.

Euro spec Volkswagen Polo’s Euro NCAP Rating

Euro Polo 1 Euro Polo 2

Toyota did something similar, and added airbags to all variants of its budget cars such as the Liva hatchback and the Etios sedan. Ford seems to pre-empting another Global NCAP-like episode. The Figo Aspire, now offers twin airbags standard across the range. Maruti and Hyundai, India’s two largest selling car makers, continue to watch from the sidelines, perhaps until the Indian government by law, can force them to act.

What can you do as a car buyer?

It’s simple. Put your hard earned money only those cars that have good crash test ratings. Now, the Indian government is yet to put the Bharat New Vehicle Safety Assessment Program (BNVSAP) in place. The BNVSAP is a body similar to the Euro NCAP. BNVSAP will test all cars sold in India, and award safety ratings. This much delayed car crash testing body is likely to come into existence by 2017.

Also see

Safe & Cheap: Cars that offer twin airbags even in the base variants!