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Honda is the first mass-market company to do so, thus putting pressure on market leaders such as Maruti Suzuki India Ltd and Hyundai Motor India Ltd to follow suit. Photo: Getty Images/AFP
Honda is the first mass-market company to do so, thus putting pressure on market leaders such as Maruti Suzuki India Ltd and Hyundai Motor India Ltd to follow suit. Photo: Getty Images/AFP

Honda ups the ante as customers demand more safety features

From 1 April, all of Honda's new models across variants will have dual airbags as a standard safety feature

New Delhi: Honda Cars India Ltd, the local unit of the Japanese auto maker, on Thursday said that from 1 April all its new models across variants will have dual airbags as a standard safety feature. Older models will have the same from April 2017, the company said.

Though Toyota and Volkswagen too have it as a standard feature in their car models, Honda is the first mass-market company to do so, thus putting pressure on market leaders such as Maruti Suzuki India Ltd and Hyundai Motor India Ltd to follow suit. The two Indian market leaders offer airbags as option in most of their models.

To be sure, the Indian government has decided to make frontal and side crash tests mandatory for new vehicles from October 2017 and existing vehicles by October 2019. To pass these tests, the cars will need to have airbags and other safety features such as child restraint systems.

“It is very encouraging to see the growing awareness of safety equipment in the minds of the consumers...," Katsushi Inoue, president and chief executive, Honda Cars India Ltd, said. “These technologies not only protect the occupants of the car in case of an accident, but also mitigate injury to pedestrians."

In the new Amaze, which was launched on Thursday, customers can opt for airbags in the base variants. Bookings for these variants will begin from May, Inoue said. The new Amaze starts selling at 5.29 lakh and goes up to 8.19 lakh. All prices are ex-showroom, Delhi.

Car safety came under spotlight after the death of the former 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.

In 2014, the 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 and Toyota have since decided to offer the Polo and Etios brands in India with two airbags as standard. This model subsequently received a four-star safety rating.

Nissan too has decided to offer a driver-side airbag in the top variants of hatchback Datsun Go and multi-utility vehicle Go+. Maruti Suzuki in January said it will offer driver airbag as an option in all variants of its entry level models Alto 800 and Alto K10.

Only two Maruti cars—S-Cross and Baleno—have safety features like dual airbags with ABS (anti-braking system) and EBD (electronic brake distribution) are offered as standard across variants.

But, to add safety features and meet emission norms in the low-cost, affordable models remain a challenge for the auto makers.

“With the safety and emission norms becoming stiffer, it is difficult to launch a product in that price segment," said Toshihiro Suzuki, president and chief operating officer at Suzuki Motor Corp., had told Mint in an interview on 3 February.

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 decline in demand.

According to Abdul Majeed, partner and auto practice leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers, with the media spreading awareness about vehicle and pedestrian safety, consumers have started to look at safety features when they make buying decisions.

“Whichever company brings these features at the earliest will add tremendous impetus to its brand value in the market," Majeed said.

To be sure, India has few vendors who make air bags locally, and their limited capacity could create a supply glitch if all cars are to come with features such as air bags and ABS. But, localisation of safety features are bound to go up as more and more auto makers offer such features.

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