Copping an air bagging
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.