Home > companies > news > Car makers add safety features ahead of mandatory crash tests

New Delhi: In anticipation of the government’s decision to make frontal and side crash tests mandatory for new vehicles from October 2017 and existing vehicles by October 2019, car makers have begun to beef up safety features. To pass these tests, the cars will need to have airbags and other safety features such as child restraint systems.

India’s largest car maker by volume, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, has decided to offer safety features as an option with every variant of its product line, said Kenichi Ayukawa, who is managing director and chief executive officer (CEO) at Maruti Suzuki.

Its rival Hyundai Motor India Ltd has also made a beginning, making anti-lock braking systems (ABS) standard across variants of its to-be-launched Creta sports utility vehicle (SUV).

ABS prevents a car from skidding in the event of brakes being applied all of a sudden.

Hyundai will also offer driver airbag as an option with every variant of the SUV.

Ford India Ltd, first to introduce Bluetooth connectivity in small cars, is going a step ahead with its sub-four-metre sedan Figo ASPIRE, where it will introduce two safety features—MyKey and MyFord Dock—which aim to limit speed on command and integrate a smartphone with the car’s dashboard, Raj Sarkar, vice-president (marketing), said.

The company will offer two airbags as standard with all variants of Aspire, said a person familiar with the development at Ford India, who did not wish to be named.

While Sarkar declined to comment on this, he said the car will have six airbags—a first in the compact-sedan segment.

But the person quoted above said the six airbags will only be available in the top variant of the car. “I can’t share that information," said Sarkar when asked specifically if all ASPIRE variants will offer airbags.

“We will introduce two new innovations, which will configure and personalize the car with the intent of making cars safer," Sarkar said.

The MyKey feature will allow owners to programme their car to restricted driving mode, such as limiting the top speed. When a programmed key is inserted into the ignition, the system reads its transponder chip and activates the settings that have been pre-selected.

MyFord Dock allows drivers to operate their smartphones in hands-free mode, letting them mount, charge and integrate the devices with the car’s entertainment system. To be sure, safety features such as airbags and ABS, are yet to be seen in the entry-level cars, priced between 2.5 lakh and 4 lakh.

According to Abdul Majeed, partner, national automotive leader, at consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the government has realized the importance of safety features in vehicles as it does not want India to be seen as a country with the highest road accident fatalities in the world.

“We want to be like a developed country, and there is clear intent from the government as the number of accidents harms the reputation of the country," Majeed said.

Car safety became a burning topic especially after the death of Union rural development minister Gopinath Munde in a road accident in Delhi a year ago. The government wants to ensure that car makers offer quality cars, similar to what they sell in developed markets.

Last year, UK-based vehicle-testing agency, Global New Car Assessment Programme (Global NCAP), said many Indian cars, such as Maruti’s Swift hatchback and Nissan Motor India Pvt. Ltd’s Datsun Go are “unstable" and may increase the “probability of life-threatening injuries", in case of an accident. The agency gave zero-star adult protection ratings to some of India’s top-selling car models, including the Maruti Alto, Tata Motors Ltd’s Nano, Volkswagen India Pvt. Ltd’s Polo, Hyundai’s i10 and Ford India’s Figo hatchback.

Volkswagen has since decided to offer the Polo in India with two airbags as standard. This model subsequently received a four-star safety rating.

The cost involved in equipping all cars with more safety features has been a deterrent for most auto makers. They fear that jacked-up prices may lead to a dip in demand.

But Majeed of PwC said auto makers will have to decide how to cut costs while offering additional safety features. “In my opinion, safety features have tremendous value-add," he said.

Then again, India has few vendors who make airbags locally, and their limited capacity could create a supply glitch if all cars are to come with features such as airbags and ABS.

“If I have to make airbags available on all my Swift models, I’d require as many as 200,000 airbags, which is currently not possible," said Maruti Suzuki’s Ayukawa.

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