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Market Insight: Five ANCAP stars now the norm

Cashing in on crashing: Having transcended industry suspicion, ANCAP crash test results are now used as a marketing tool by vehicle manufacturers.

Cars, SUVs getting safer as ANCAP influence grows, but commercials still lagging

2 Apr 2012

ALMOST three-quarters of all new cars and SUVs sold in Australia last year had the maximum five-star crash safety score from the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP), up from 62 per cent in 2009-2010 and just 40 per cent in 2008.

ANCAP, which recommends that buyers do not consider vehicles that achieved less than four stars, reports that 91 per cent of cars sold last year were in the top two categories, with just 19 per cent of the market now being four-star cars (compared with 47 per cent in 2008).

Meanwhile, sales of cars rated three stars or less are slowly shrinking, down from 16 per cent in the period 2000-2004 – when 69 per cent rated four stars and just 14 per cent got five stars – to nine per cent in 2011.

ANCAP last year published 63 results, 28 of which were based on tests conducted in Australia, with the remainder carried out in Europe by Euro NCAP, on which ANCAP models its testing practices and rating scheme.

Of the 63 results, 51 were for passenger cars and SUVs, and 84 per cent of those tested achieved the maximum five-star result.

In contrast, only five of the 12 commercial vehicles tested last year – just 42 per cent – got five stars, reflecting the fact that workhorse utes and vans still lag behind in the safety stakes, despite these vehicles essentially being mobile workplaces. Safe Work Australia reports that vehicles are involved in one-third of work-related deaths.

Of all the light commercial vehicles on the Australian market, only the Holden Ute, Ford Falcon ute, Ford Ranger, Mazda BT-50, Volkswagen Amarok and Mercedes-Benz Vito/Viano have achieved five stars, accounting for just 18 per cent of LCVs sold locally last year.

With four-star vehicles accounting for 35 per cent, almost half of all LCVs sold in Australia are rated at three stars or less, which ANCAP says puts occupants at far greater risk of death or injury.

Commercial vehicles tend to have a longer product lifecycle than passenger cars and SUVs, meaning developments in safety technology can take a while to filter through in this segment.

Of the nine models rated so far this year, the only vehicle that failed to achieve five stars was also the sole commercial, Nissan’s Navara one-tonne ute, which was upgraded from three stars to four following a recent facelift, proving that meaningful improvements can be made to existing products.

ANCAP has published 387 test results since it began operating 20 years ago, of which 46 per cent were for five stars, 40 per cent for four and 14 per cent for three stars or less.

There is now a large choice of both new and used cars across all market segments with five-star ratings, making it easier for consumers to select a safer vehicle.

The proliferation of five-star vehicles on Australia’s roads is likely to have a positive effect on the country’s road toll, but ANCAP and its international equivalents are still turning the screws on manufacturers and moving the goalposts, with tougher tests planned for introduction over the next five years.

ANCAP was conceived around the notion that vehicles in Australia were less safe than their equivalents in the USA, but recognising that influencing legislation or changing the Australian Design Rules (ADRs) would be a slow and difficult process.

Testing based on US NCAP criteria commenced in 1992, with support from the Australian and New Zealand governments, automobile clubs, state governments, state road insurance organisations and the UK-based FIA Foundation.

At first, independent crash-testing was viewed with suspicion by vehicle manufacturers, which were unsupportive, disinterested and dismissed the tests as not reflecting real-world scenarios.

Even by the late 1990s the situation had not improved much and car manufacturers, surprised that ANCAP was more than a flash in the pan and had continued to raise money and gain support, became more vocal in their opposition and refused to discuss the published results.

A few years later, the first five-star results emerged, along with increasing support from a few manufacturers that began recognising the tests and the value of good safety ratings to selling cars, with Subaru being one of the first brands to offer an all-five-star product range.

Speaking at a recent media event at the Crashlab testing facility in Sydney, ANCAP chairman Nicholas Clarke said that initially “there was a level of denial in the industry about how safe their cars were” but pointed out that Toyota and Honda, both of which were originally sceptical of ANCAP, are now among the legions of brands that use their five-star safety ratings in advertising materials.

In 1999, ANCAP harmonised its testing strategy with Euro NCAP. It was incorporated as a not-for-profit organisation in 2006 and is now part of World NCAP (which also includes US NCAP, Euro NCAP, Japan NCAP and Korean NCAP) and supports Global NCAP for developing countries in Latin America and Asia.

ANCAP now has a strong relationship with vehicle manufacturers through its “substantial” consultation with the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), from which it receives funding and test vehicles.

For tests conducted in Australia, ANCAP generally selects popular vehicles that have the largest influence on the market, but also selects others to highlight exceptionally good or poor performers and to represent new manufacturers entering the market.

In these instances, ANCAP purchases the vehicles anonymously in the lowest safety specification, such as a base variant with fewer airbags.

However, an indicator of how far ANCAP’s recognition has come is the number of vehicle manufacturers that now sponsor their own crash tests to be scheduled before a model is launched so that the test results can be published as soon as it goes on sale.

Sponsoring their own tests benefits manufacturers because they can use the results in advertising materials and also because an increasing number of private and public-sector fleets have five-star purchasing policies.

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