India-Market Subcompacts Fare Poorly in Crash Tests

Although global regulatory standards are rapidly standardizing in the areas of emissions and safety, there are still some regions that have less-demanding standards, presumably of lowering the cost of new car models in those developing markets. However, a recent test of some Indian-market subcompact models from five manufacturers by Global NCAP revealed some shocking safety shortcomings in the models that could result in regulatory changes for models sold in India.

The Maruti Suzuki Alto 800, Ford Figo, Hyundai i10, Tata Nano and Volkswagen Polo subcompact models were all tested. The Tata Nano fared the worst, receiving zero stars in both adult front occupant protection, as well as child safety. The Hyundai i10 didn't fare much better, also getting zero stars for adult protection, and just one star for infant protection. The best performer was the Volkswagen Polo equipped with dual front airbags, which received four out of five stars for adult front passenger protection, and three stars for child safety. A Polo model without front airbags was also tested, and received zero stars for adult safety. Following the crash test results, Volkswagen announced the Polo model without airbags will no longer be sold in India.

The overall vehicle structures of the Maruti Suzuki, the Tata and the Hyundai were assessed as "unstable" overall, with the structures of the Ford and Volkswagen deemed "stable." The addition of front airbags on the Ford might have resulted in higher crash test scores, similar to the results between the Polo equipped with front airbags compared to the model without them. Rohit Baluja, president of India's Institute of Road Traffic Education, noted that many cars manufactured in India for export already meet more stringent safety standards, so it's just a matter of more stringent regulatory requirements for domestic-market models.

Source: Global NCAP

Low safety scores are not a big surprise. If I paid only $2,500 for a new Tata Nano, I would not expect many safety features. Yes, the Polo is safer but it lists for around $8,000--over 2.5 times the price of the Nano. Note that the average annual income in India is $1,200. A cheaper car without safety features is what the population can afford.

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