Mumbai: Maruti Suzuki India Ltd’s popular Swift hatchback, now in its third generation in India, scored a dismal two out of five stars in the Global New Car Assessment Programme’s (GNCAP’s) crash tests conducted as part of its “Safer Cars For India" campaign, a report released on Monday by the international body showed.

“The latest version of the Maruti Suzuki Swift, with standard double airbags (for adults seated in front) and ISOFIX (i-size) anchorages (for child safety on the rear seat), reached two stars in adult occupant protection and two stars for child occupant protection," the report said.

An NCAP is a government or institutional car safety programme that evaluates the safety capabilities of new automobile designs. GNCAP, located in London, coordinates between various NCAPs around the world in addition to conducting its own safety tests.

While the adult safety rating of the India-specific Swift (manufactured locally) was compromised because of “high compression to the driver’s chest, unstable structure and poor protection for the feet, explained by pedal displacement on the driver’s side", the child safety rating was explained by poor protection to the head and chest of the 18-month-old and three-year-old dummies.

GNCAP found that the Swift’s body shell integrity was “unstable" and “not capable of withstanding further loadings".

Tested at the global norm of 64 km per hour against India’s 56 km per hour, the Indian version of the Swift was found wanting in the frontal crash test as compared to its European variant, as it does not offer features such as side-body and curtain airbags, and electronic stability control (ESC). While these are standard on the European model, they are not even offered in the price-sensitive Indian market by Maruti Suzuki.

“The latest version of the Swift sold in India has improved and it is good to see dual airbags as standard. This confirms the beneficial effect of the government’s new crash test regulations. But performance of the Swift sold in Europe and Japan shows that a better safety performance is still possible, so Global NCAP would like to see Maruti Suzuki aim higher," David Ward, GNCAP secretary general, said in the report.

The absence of a four-channel anti-lock braking system (ABS) was also one of the key reasons for the poor rating, GNCAP said.

First launched in India in 2005, the Swift has been one of the top-selling models in the country, clocking a cumulative 1.8 million units in sales up to the launch of its third generation variant in February. In June, Maruti Suzuki said the model had clocked 100,000 units in sales. With a base price of 499,000 (ex-showroom, New Delhi), the Swift is one of the most competitively priced hatchbacks in the country.

India has one of the highest road fatality rates in the world, with more than 150,000 people killed in traffic accidents each year. On its part, the government has mandated a piecemeal implementation of stricter safety norms.

Last October, the transport ministry approved the mandatory installation of airbags and speed limit reminders in all cars from 1 July 2019, in addition to seat belt reminders, reverse parking sensors and a manual override switch for central locking systems. From October 2019, all cars will also have to comply with norms related to a full frontal impact, offset frontal impact and a side impact.

At present, these features are available primarily on top-end variants.

In the past, Maruti Suzuki had committed to adhere 75-80% of its portfolio to these norms, a year ahead of the deadline.

Analysts say the tag of an “unsafe car" declared by such global tests will not deter sales in the domestic market as Indians are still value-conscious.

“There is no data to say that customers are willing to change their purchase decisions even though some cars are declared unsafe," said Deepesh Rathore, co-founder and director at London-based Emerging Markets Automotive Advisors, citing the examples of the best-selling Hyundai Grand i10 and Maruti Suzuki Alto models, which received only one GNCAP star in their respective tests.

Considering the maker of the Baleno hatchback produces upwards of one lakh units a month, Maruti Suzuki’s build quality is one of the best in India, Rathore said, adding that such high sales by the firm “are a testimony" to its car quality.

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