Double standards: 5 Star rated Chinese cars would have failed Euro NCAP rules

Crash2 - Picture courtesy Flickr

More grumblings about NCAP tomfooleries, this time from China and Germany. China’s widely-read 163.com has it from unnamed insiders at Volkswagen that China’s largest automaker is unhappy with C-NCAP, the New Car Assessment Program with Chinese characteristics. Volkswagen wants credit for routinely equipping its China-sold cars with the stabilizer system known as ESC (or ESP in VW parlance.) Other importers of high-end cars to China are said to be likewise miffed. However, China’s NCAP is blind when it comes to the gadgetry.

Recently, C-NCAP, administered by China’s state-owned enterprise CATARC, published its latest crop of tests, and everybody won. Six out of eight cars received a Five Star rating. Two had to make do with four stars. Losers: None. As far as Global NCAP is concerned, all is peachy in the Middle Kingdom.

Not so in neighboring India: According to Global NCAP, most of India’s best-selling cars are unsafe to drive. This after a series of crash tests, performed at the tech center of Germany’s scandal-ridden auto club ADAC.

The heroic Chinese cars were crashed in a facility provided by the Chinese government, and according to C-NCAP rules. There is no NCAP for India, so the ADAC tested the Indian cars according to Euro NCAP regs. Certain parts of the Euro NCAP regulations must have been overlooked during the test, for instance the part that says that “any vehicle model currently on sale in Europe can be nominated” for Euro NCAP testing. The tested vehicles were for the Indian market. Or the part that the vehicle must be “fully type-approved” in the EU. The tested vehicles were type-approved in India. But who am I to nitpick.

Of course cars made for India failed a test made for Europe, just like I will fail a Latin exam after cramming for algebra. Anyone who knows this industry will tell you that cars are built to meet specifications. The Indian cars met Indian rules.

In search of regulations, The Hindu asked Abhay Damle, Director, Central Institute of Road Transport, and received as an answer:

“At the best of our knowledge crash standards have been formulated for full frontal, off frontal and as well as side crash. Bureau of Indian Standards is working to convert these standards in Indian format.”

With standards still a work in progress, no wonder they aren’t met.

If measured by the standards of Euro NCAP, most of the aforementioned star-studded Chinese cars would be an utter failure as well. That for many reasons, one of them the lack of an essential widget, namely the Electronic Stability Control.

“At this moment, active safety systems do not count for anything in the C-NCAP rating. They do count in Europe at Euro NCAP,” says Tycho de Feyter, a famous Beijing-based car-blogger. (He is currently in balmy Zhuhai, covering surface-to-air missiles.) “Local Chinese automakers are not unhappy with leaving out the active safety systems, because they don’t have the technology to make any or any good ones.” ESC is as absent in C-NCAP’s rules as it is amiss in most cars in China. Measured by Euro NCAP rules, they would fail. (If you think this is hair splitting, don’t forget that the infamous Chinese Brilliance BS4 lost all its stars due to a bundle of split hairs.)

The EU stopped granting type approvals to ESC-less cars in 2011. Since November 1 of this year, ESC is mandatory in all cars newly registered in the EU. No such rules in China. C-NCAP indicated that it might put ESC into the rules in 2015, for an extra point or two, if Chinese media reports are correct. Meanwhile in Europe, Euro NCAP plans to include crash avoidance systems, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning etc. Cars from China will continue having a hard time getting 5 stars in Europe. Unless the car is a Qoros. Which is made by Euro-greybeards, having a good time in China.

While on the topic of ESC – Global NCAP chief Max Mosley was in Tianjin, China, two weeks ago. The annual meeting of UK-registered Global NCAP oddly was held in that not so splendiferous port city, 30 minutes away from Beijing by high speed train, 2 hours, or days, by car. The meeting was hosted by CATARC. What better place to press for immediate mandatory fitment of the stabilization gizmo to all new Chinese cars, than at the huge and standard-setting China Automotive Technology and Research Center? Instead, and with much less fervor than when Global NCAP painted Indian cars as rolling deathtraps, Mosley appealed to the world at large, and to install the lifesaving gadget – – – before the end of the decade. Why so gracious in China, and so rude in India? “What’s so wrong with hypocrisy?” Mosley could possible answer.

Like so many global things, the global part of Global NCAP is a dream. The realities in China, India, where billions are yet to drive, are different from the U.S. and Europe and their alleged car-fatigue.

Nobody knows this better than Michiel van Ratingen, Secretary General of Euro NCAP.

“We all have ties with our regulations, and it’s important we keep those,” van Ratingen said in an interview with Automotive World. “NCAPs are structured differently. US NCAP changes, for example, have to go through a regulatory process where a cost-benefit analysis needs to be made in terms of economic and road safety benefits. This makes it quite inflexible for standardizing procedures. We in Europe have a very loose tie with regulation and could harmonize on test parameters more easily, without having a regulatory consequence.”

He wisely said nothing about China or India.

Like anyone who sells heavy high-speed projectiles to perfect strangers, the auto industry needs to take safety seriously. The auto industry around the world would be best served by a wide adoption of the framework provided by the UNECE World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulation. It has done a great job making the roads safer, and cars more accessible throughout the world. Regulation 94, the car crash standard, is a good regulation. It crashes the cars at the same speed as the U.S. FMVSS, namely at 56 kph. Global NCAP tested the Indian cars in Germany at (so they say) 64 kph, and the tests are not comparable. Global NCAP likes to be seen at the UN, and sings the praises of UNECE so loud, that some sloppy journalists already call the London charity “UN NCAP.” Do the right thing, recommend UNECE, instead of yet another goalpost-moving NCAP scheme.

However, NCAP cannot be taken seriously while represented by a Max Mosley, who could convince a London judge that there was no “Nazi” element to his S&M orgy with five prostitutes, where mock delousings on mock concentration camp victims were performed, where Mosley was videotaped “giving orders in German as he lashes girls wearing mock death camp uniforms and is himself whipped until he bleeds.”

A man with such powers of persuasion should be running sales.