Cop­ping an air bag­ging

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Welcome - JOSHUA DOWLING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING EDI­TOR joshua.dowling@news.com.au

THERE’S been a nasty bat­tle brew­ing for months be­tween French maker Re­nault and the Aus­tralian crash test author­ity, ANCAP.

The furore reached a new low in April when the boss of Re­nault Aus­tralia ques­tioned whether Aus­tralian car buy­ers would even need an in­de­pen­dent author­ity on crash safety once lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing ends in three years.

For the record, ANCAP isn’t go­ing any­where, even though some brands wish it would.

This, from the com­pany that was the first man­u­fac­turer ever to be awarded five stars for safety and to pro­mote the fact.

So why has it all gone sour? A cou­ple of new Re­naults, when mea­sured against cur­rent Aus­tralian cri­te­ria, would earn only four stars in Aus­tralia be­cause they lack rear airbags.

Aus­tralian au­thor­i­ties closed this loop­hole af­ter Ford got a five-star rat­ing for the Fal­con a cou­ple of years ago with­out rear airbag pro­tec­tion on what it dubbed “a mod­ern fam­ily car”.

But EuroNCAP was slow to close this loop­hole and Re­nault (and Volk­swa­gen) be­gan in­tro­duc­ing mod­els with­out rear airbag pro­tec­tion.

The sole pur­pose of Global NCAP is to im­prove ve­hi­cle safety and yet, right un­der Euro NCAP’s nose, Euro­pean mak­ers be­gan­fit­ting fewer airbags to save money. Well, now the game is up. EuroNCAP has fi­nally fol­lowed the lead of Aus­tralian NCAP and will close the rear airbag loop­hole. Un­for­tu­nately, the re­quire­ments won’t come into force in Europe un­til 2016.

The tragedy here is that EuroNCAP as­sumed, per­haps naively, that mak­ers wouldn’t dare take a back­ward step when it came to safety.

But when it comes to sav­ing money, car com­pa­nies are masters at gam­ing the rules.

Which is why you should only ever judge cars sold in Aus­tralia by the Aus­tralian NCAP rat­ings (ancap.com.au) as they are the more ro­bust stan­dard.

Aus­tralians like to think that some­thing from Europe is au­to­mat­i­cally bet­ter. But on this oc­ca­sion the op­po­site is true.

Mean­while, it will be in­ter­est­ing to see Re­nault and oth­ers change their at­ti­tudes to rear airbags once the Euro­pean rules come into force.

For the past few months, Re­nault has been try­ing to tell us that rear airbags aren’t es­sen­tial, and in some cir­cum­stances can even be dan­ger­ous.

Don’t make me laugh.

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