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Market insight: Keeping safety in sight

Below average: The Chery J1 scraped through for a three-star ANCAP safety rating, despite a poor performance in the frontal offset test.

Chery J1 crash safety shortcomings highlight the benefits of ANCAP

16 May 2011

THE prevalence of five-star safety performers coming down the engineering pipeline from car-makers these days has caused observers to ponder if the independent test system is really relevant to consumers when making purchasing decisions.

And then along comes a Chery J1. With a safety score of just 16.97 out of a maximum 37, the Chinese-made small car scraped through for a three-star rating, despite a comment from Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) engineers that chest protection for a J1 driver was poor.

In fact, the car was awarded zero points for chest protection in both the side impact and frontal offset crash tests. In the latter, cars are crashed into a deformable aluminium barrier at 64km/h, with only the front driver’s side of the vehicle bearing the brunt.

It is undoubtedly a tough test, but safety engineers believe it best represents a real-world crash scenario, and it has become a global NCAP standard, along with a side impact and side pole impact tests.

To put crash performance in perspective, the A-pillar of the top-performing light car, the Alfa Romeo MiTo, moved rearwards 4mm in the offset crash, while its steering wheel hub actually moved forward 11mm – away from the driver. Afterwards, the doors could be opened and shut “with normal effort”. The little Alfa scored a total of 36.1 out of a possible 37 points – a stunning effort.

128 center imageFrontal crash tests: (From top) Alfa Romeo MiTo, Ford Fiesta, Proton S16, Holden Barina Spark.

In the Chery, the A-pillar moved rearward 75mm, causing a large kink in the roof rail, while the steering wheel hub was forced backwards 151mm. “High manual effort” was needed to open the driver’s door afterwards.

The Chery – the first Chinese-made passenger car to be tested by ANCAP – even trailed the performance of the lowly Malaysian-made Proton S16 (now in run-out in Australia), which scored 19.96 out of 37 (for three stars) from ANCAP.

Neither the J1 nor the S16 have side, curtain or knee airbags. The best performing light cars do, although other factors such as inherent structural integrity are also significant.

Electronic stability control, which since 2008 has been required by ANCAP for a five-star rating, is also not fitted to the J1 or the S16.

However, it is instructive to look at the performances of comparable single models to see how much the addition of airbags can add to an ANCAP score.

Hyundai’s new i20 managed just 28.07 points out of 37 when fitted with only with dual front airbags – as was the case with the entry-level Active variants at launch – but when tested with six airbags (adding side and curtain airbags), the result improved to 34.07 points and lifted the i20 from four to five stars.

Within three months, Hyundai Motor Co Australia had the entire i20 range fitted with the full complement of airbags.

In the case of the Ford Fiesta, the base model falls short of five-star qualification unless the customer pays extra for a safety pack that includes extra airbags and a passenger seatbelt warning indicator. The most recent ANCAP rating for the two-airbag Fiesta CL places its points score at 24.84 points – four stars – for the previous WS range.

Better-equipped models in both the previous WS and facelifted WT ranges turned in a 34.4-point, five-star effort.

With the Toyota Yaris, a three-door base YR with two airbags came in at 29.46, while a five-door model with the optional safety pack of airbags scored a creditable 34.95 – well into five-star range.

And the Yaris is nearing the end of its model life, with an all-new model due later this year, presumably with five-star safety across the range this time and perhaps an even better overall score.

Holden also has a new Barina in the wings, meaning it too is most likely to join the five-star club, although its newer and smaller Barina sibling, the Spark, missed the five-star cut when it scored 31 points.

If all Barina and Yaris models come equipped with a full complement of airbags next time around, then Ford is likely to follow suit with the Fiesta, pushing yet another small car into the top bracket and proving yet again that competition improves the breed.

The push for five-star safety just became a little more urgent with the federal government announcing a minimum five-star standard for its fleet cars, while urging other fleets around the country to follow suit.

ANCAP, which is backed by all Australian and New Zealand motoring clubs, the Australian and New Zealand governments, all Australian state governments, the Victorian Transport Accident Commission, NRMA Insurance and the FIA Foundation, is also set to upgrade its standards in line with its 2011-15 ‘Road Map’.

This will take into account some of the fresh changes to the European NCAP system, including pedestrian safety, whiplash protection and roof strength, as well as encouraging new safety technologies.

While the tests will get a little tougher, the number of models arriving in Australia from China is set to grow.

On the evidence of the Chery J1, ANCAP is going to have its work cut out, not only testing such vehicles but also educating Chinese automotive engineers on the shortcomings of such cars.

In the case of the Chery, two safety engineers flew in to Australia for the tests, and by all accounts went home wiser, with an extensive list of ways to improve Chery products, present and future.

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