Many South African motorists looking to buy a new car will be aware of NCAP (New Car Assessment Programme) vehicle safety star ratings when checking through the specifications of their short-listed models. Up until recently, the NCAP ratings have been achieved overseas, although the AA had for some time been active in appraising vehicles being launched into the local market. But in 2017 the AA joined forces with Global NCAP and launched the #SaferCarsForAfrica campaign, and with the welcome support of the FIA Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies, the movement undertook the country’s first independent crash test assessment programme.
This year, four more vehicles were subjected to the crash test programme – Kia Picanto, Hyundai i20, Toyota Yaris and Nissan NP300 Hardbody. Global NCAP chose the entry-level version of each model. All were fitted with at least one airbag as standard, but NCAP stresses that airbags are not a substitute for seatbelts – all vehicle occupants must be ‘belted in’ at all times.
Because the only safe way for young children to travel is to be properly restrained in a child seat, the assessment checks how compatible the car is with the child seat recommended by the manufacturer, as well as the protection provided in the crash test. Global NCAP awards a separate child safety rating to each vehicle in order to highlight the different levels of protection provided to rear-seat passengers. Only the Yaris and Picanto offered standard ISOFIX anchorages for child restraint systems (CRS), but only the Yaris offered a three-point seatbelt for all occupants, which facilitates the safe installation of a child seat in all positions. The other three vehicles offered a lap belt in the rear seat middle position, making it impossible to properly install a CRS.
For the assessment, each car was fitted with crash test dummies representing adults in the front seats, plus a three-year-old and an 18-month old child in the rear seat. The cars are propelled at 64 km/h into a solid block covering 40% of the car’s width on the driver’s side. Separate ratings are given for front adult and rear child safety. The four models displayed a wide range of safety performance and significant differences in structural integrity.
The Picanto achieved a three-star rating for adult occupant protection. The vehicle structure was rated as stable but the footwell area was rated unstable. Using a child seat recommended by Kia, the Picanto achieved a two-star rating for child protection. The detachment of the ISOFIX anchorages during the test accounts for the low score. Kia did not offer an explanation to the problem, but the CRS manufacturer immediately removed the Picanto from the seat’s list of recommended cars.
The i20 achieved a three-star rating for adult occupant protection, the levels ranging from marginal to good. The vehicle structure – which is different to that of the European model – and footwell area were rated as unstable. Using a Hyundai-recommended CRS, the i20 achieved a two-star rating for child occupant protection due to the limited protection offered to the 3-year-old dummy, and lack of ISOFIX anchorages.
The Yaris achieved a three-star rating for adult occupant protection, the levels ranging from marginal to good. The vehicle structure was rated as unstable. The Yaris is the only car to provide seatbelt reminders for both front seat passengers. Using a CRS recommended by Toyota, the Yaris achieved a three-star rating for child protection.
Nissan NP300 Hardbody
The NP300 achieved a zero star rating for it adult occupant protection mainly due to poor protection in the driver head and chest areas. The Hardbody’s structure was rated as unstable due to it collapsing in the test. The steering column did not collapse and penetrated the driver dummy’s chest. Despite being equipped with double frontal airbags, the NP300’s performance showed a significant risk of life-threatening injuries, especially to the driver’s head and chest, which showed high biomechanical readings in the crash test. A two-star rating for child occupant protection was mainly due to Nissan installing the child seat without following the CRS manufacturer’s clear instructions.
Global NCAP Secretary General David Ward said, “A trio of three-star results is acceptable but the zero-star Hardbody is shockingly bad. It is astonishing that a global company like Nissan can produce a vehicle as poorly engineered as this. Our test shows that the occupant compartment completely fails to absorb the energy of the crash, resulting in a high risk of fatality or serious injury”.
Commenting on the findings, Collins Khumalo, CEO of the AA of SA, said, “There should be no zero-rated vehicles on our roads. Vehicles may not be what they seem, and until many more vehicles are tested this issue may be a much bigger problem throughout Africa than we originally believed”.
Ward and Khumalo have written to the UN Economic Commission for Africa and the African Development Bank, calling for urgent action by African governments to prevent the sale of zero star cars like the Nissan NP300. “In our view, remedial action to strengthen the NP300’s bodyshell is now urgently needed. This is a concern not just in South Africa but elsewhere, as Nissan has plans to increase exports of this vehicle across Africa,” Ward explains.
In conclusion, Khumalo said, “These results are outrageous and show unsafe vehicles are being sold to the people of Africa, which no manufacturer would consider selling in other markets. Aiming to meet or exceed minimum standards is not the same as making vehicles with acceptable safety standards, and manufacturers know this. These standards must change, and we need urgent intervention from policy makers to make this happen.”
To review the full reports on all nine cars so far tested in SA by Global NCAP, logon to the Insights section of the AA’s website, www.aasa.co.za.