Corporate Auto Safety Standards & New Car Assessment Programs (NCAP)
The NPR Goats and Sodas article notes:“Nissan isn’t the only carmaker with different safety options for different markets. A 2017 Chevrolet Spark sold in the U.S. comes with 10 airbags. The same version sold in Mexico doesn’t come with any airbags, and like the Tsuru, it scored zero stars in crash tests. Latin NCAP, along with its affiliate Global NCAP, has crash tested dozens of cars. Hyundai, Nissan, Renault, Suzuki, Datsun, Ford, Fiat, Kia, Volkswagen and others have all sold zero-star cars in middle- and low-income countries around the world. Many of the vehicles in question lack basic safety features that have been mandatory in the U.S. and European Union for almost two decades….
We reached out to Nissan for comment. A Nissan spokesman said the company was aware of the “car-to-car crash demonstration” test and noted: “Nissan vehicles meet or exceed safety regulations for the markets in which they are sold. The Tsuru has been one of the most popular subcompact vehicles in Mexico for more than three decades due to its affordability and its proven reliability. Nissan Mexico recently announced it will discontinue Tsuru production in May 2017.” He added that Nissan in Mexico has incorporated safety features in its current vehicle lineup.
When we asked GM about safety disparities, a spokesman told Goats & Soda that all of its cars will meet minimum safety standards by 2019, and that “front dual airbags and three-point seat belts in all seating positions [will be] standard” on eight models by 2018.”
Past Nissan NCAP Story
Years ago Nissan failed a NHTSA crash test and sent a couple of engineers to complain that we had not tested their car properly. We reviewed the test and said that the test was performed properly. They protested that we had not connected the shoulder belt properly by passing it through a small plastic positioning hook at the latch. The Nissan engineers were not happy when we told them that we were not permitted under the test procedures to perform that additional step in the buckling up of the dummy.
Weeks later the Nissan engineers returned showing that they had made modifications and how their new test results compared with all other manufacturers. They showed us a plot of crash test results from all manufacturers ranked from best to worst. Then with great visible pride they pointed out their new results to be right in the middle. Shocked, I blurted out “You aimed for and achieved mediocrity in safety?”
Past Honda NCAP Story
The origin of NCAP testing began at NHTSA under the leadership of Joan Claybrook during the late 1970’s. At the time, Honda had launched the 1979 Civic. In one of our first tests, the 1979 model Honda Civic failed. The following year we crash tested the 1980 Honda Civic, and it too failed. Honda then made several safety modifications beginning with the 1981 Civic model that resulted in passage of the crash tests in what was the new NCAP Program.
A decade later, I was managing a NHTSA program at the University of Miami studying crashes, injuries, treatments, and outcomes. We had a serious crash involving a 1981 Civic where the driver surprisingly survived. Knowing of the improvements made by Honda to the 1981 Honda Civic, we decided to investigate whether there was statistical evidence of life saving in the real world experience of vehicles with the safety improvements.
The 1993 NHTSA Report to Congress on NCAP has the safety story on the 1981 Honda Civic. See pp. 79 – 82. The Report describes physical changes in the 1981 Civic that had been made after the 1979 and 1980 Civics had failed the new NCAP tests. The crash test data of the 1981 safety improvements to reduce forces to the head and chest is shown Table 5. Table 6 shows the real world results of the improvements in reducing the fatality rates by 42% based on 1982-1988 FARS Data. This is a specific example of the importance of crash testing to stimulate safety features that result in significant reductions in fatalities. Unfortunately, the NHTSA Report to Congress did not include that I was told, by Honda’s Chief Engineer, that the costs to Honda for these mechanical improvements amounted to about $13.60 per vehicle.