Crash testing reveals problems that some carmakers prefer you did not know
The European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro-NCAP) is a destruction-test procedure that takes place in several European countries, reports Iain Robertson, including Thatcham Research, in Berkshire, all geared towards improving vehicle safety.
Established in 1997, Euro-NCAP was created by seven governments, as well as both motoring and consumer bodies from every European nation. Entirely ethical, it provides independent assessments of safety standards of vehicles provided by a wide mix of car manufacturers (but not all of them), in order to formulate insurance ratings and to help each of us to determine which cars and light commercials provide the highest levels of crash resistance. Those participating members submit vehicles (at their cost) to achieve a score rating across a number of pertinent parameters.
While crash resistance is one aspect, which takes into account frontal, lateral and rollover protection, vehicle equipment levels are considered, as are interior details, such as airbags, lateral crash beams, restraints, occupant and other safety elements. While the assessments are extensive, they culminate in laboratory collision tests that replicate being driven into motorway barriers at an angle, nose-to-tail incidents and lateral poles (similar to hitting a tree, or lamppost side-on).
You are sure to have heard about ‘crash test dummies’, which are highly sophisticated scientific ‘humanoids’, loaded with electronic sensors, weighted and sized according to actual human statistics (taking age, pregnancy and sex into account), and that can cost upwards of £500,000 apiece. They can be repaired and redeployed for several applications, although inevitably damage rates can be high.
Almost every month, another list of recently tested models is publicised, in some cases, much to the chagrin of the carmakers, notably should they fail certain test elements. Take the latest VW Golf VIII, which shared an issue first raised with the VW Sharan (only a few weeks previously); in the side impact test, a door sprung open. While Volkswagen has attempted to ‘soften the blow’ by suggesting that its own tests (with automatic self-locking) prevent such an occurrence, Euro-NCAP has revealed clearly a product weakness that VW states it will resolve. Of course, the perceived risk of VW occupants being ejected from a crashed vehicle is the primary concern. Yet, the Golf has still been awarded a 5-Star score.
The same firm also submitted its Seat Mii, VW Up! and Skoda Citigo models. Intriguingly, while autonomous emergency braking (AEB) was a standard fitment on those models, it has been dropped from the latest upgraded versions, which has cost the companies two of their former 5-Star ratings, which is not heartening news for the German carmaker. Interestingly, the soon-to-be-launched Ford Puma (now a compact SUV, rather than sporty coupe), outperformed expectations and scored a superb 5-Stars.
Euro-NCAP is always seeking to improve its ratings’ mechanisms and, as new safety addenda, such as VW’s V2X connectivity (car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure) highlights, by enabling advance hazard warnings, the safety test organisation is going to include the technology as part of its procedural enhancements in the future.
Not so long ago, a factor that prevented a large number of Chinese makes and models from being imported, several Sino brands were tested and resulted in either very low, or zero, star ratings. Therefore, SAIC, the maker of MG models, must be exceptionally relieved to find that both its HS and ZS Electric models have scored the maximum 5-Stars. Nissan’s latest UK-produced Juke model has also been awarded the top rating.
Interestingly, the French PSA Group (Citroen, Peugeot and DS), which now owns Vauxhall/Opel as well, was rebuked strongly by Euro-NCAP for its ‘lack of transparency’, ‘false safety claims’ and ‘lack of ambition’ in respect of improving safety on its van-based passenger vehicles, so much so that the testing body cut short its programme for the latest Opel Zafira Life, until it complied (the potential of a damagingly low score was evident). PSA has not responded as yet but it is abundantly clear that Euro-NCAP is unafraid of baring its teeth, when it needs to.
Should you wish to access the reports, they are all in the public domain and clicking on ‘euroncap.com’ will take readers directly to the comprehensive and colourful test sheets, which are totally fascinating. On the same website, you can also see the value of destructive impacts in a selection of videos shot in real time. Taking the MG ZS EV as an example, its 5-Star rating is refined with a 90% adult, 85% child, 64% vulnerable road users and 70% safety assist results. It is interesting to note (by way of red ‘X’s) the features missing in the MG model, such as knee, pelvis and chest airbags, as well as an active bonnet (for pedestrian protection). In the latter area, ‘pedestrian vulnerability’ is regarded as a child running from behind parked vehicles, an adult either crossing the road, or running alongside it, with nocturnal behaviour and cyclists also being accounted for. As stated, the Euro-NCAP Datasheets make fascinating reading.
Crash test resilience provides standards by which cars and light commercials can be rated and many carmakers feel encouraged enough to boast of their 5-Star scores. As the only definitive tests, while each driver is responsible for the safety of his passengers and the omnipresent threat of ‘Corporate Manslaughter’ hangs in the balance, Euro-NCAP can provide a means to understanding each vehicle’s integrity and its vital safety standards. Public access to Euro-NCAP data is an important and free means to avoid false claims and misinformation promoted by some vehicle manufacturers.