THE TRUE COST DE­TEC­TIVE

In­sur­ance re­pair cost fea­ture

NZ Autocar - - Contents -

As the chair­man of global au­to­mo­tive in­sur­ance re­search group, RCAR, Robert McDon­ald is an in­flu­en­tial cam­paigner for safer, more se­cure cars that are cheaper to re­pair. He speaks to Paul Owen about the of­ten-scan­dalous costs of crash re­pairs.

As car in­sur­ance jobs go, Robert McDon­ald has one of the bet­ter ones. He’s a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer and is the se­nior man­ager of the In­sur­ance Aus­tralia Group’s re­search cen­tre in Syd­ney. This means he gets to smash things to bits, and de­vises clever tests that re­flect the per­for­mance of ve­hi­cles in the real world.

Although McDon­ald rep­re­sents IAG on ANCAP which fo­cuses their tests on oc­cu­pant safety, those con­ducted by the IAG cen­tre are more con­cerned with re­pair costs. How­ever this hasn’t stopped McDon­ald’s team from bring­ing a slightly more eclec­tic and broader ap­proach to their data ac­qui­si­tion. In re­cent times, the IAG re­searchers have tested pet re­straints, ve­hi­cle theft se­cu­rity, col­li­sions with su­per­mar­ket trol­leys, im­pacts with kan­ga­roos, mo­tor­cy­cle park­ing top­ple-overs, and rear view vis­i­bil­ity. The re­sults are then pub­li­cised in an ef­fort to make the buy­ing pub­lic more aware of other con­sid­er­a­tions than just per­sonal safety, per­for­mance, and fuel econ­omy when de­cid­ing which ve­hi­cle to buy. Ac­cord­ing to McDon­ald, it has been the pub­li­ca­tion of the IAG re­search re­sults that has en­cour­aged the fit­ting of rear view cam­eras and en­gine im­mo­bilis­ers as must-have fea­tures of the mod­els sold in Aus­tralasian mar­kets.

The re­search cen­tre serves a num­ber of Aus­tralian au­to­mo­tive in­sur­ers as well as three in New Zealand – State, NZI, and AMI. The crash test data are used by these in­sur­ers to tai­lor ap­pro­pri­ate pre­mi­ums to par­tic­u­lar mod­els.

One of the most com­mon car in­sur­ance claims arises as a re­sult of a low speed nose-to-tail im­pact in ei­ther a con­gested mo­tor­way com­mut­ing sce­nario, or a com­ing to­gether in a car-park. When McDon­ald’s RCAR or­gan­i­sa­tion first de­vised a sim­ple test of a car’s per­for­mance in such im­pacts back in 2008, it high­lighted how many small cars could be writ­ten off in low-speed crashes due to the re­luc­tance of some man­u­fac­tur­ers to fit steel rear bumper bars be­hind the plas­tic bumper cov­ers of their cars. This of­ten re­sulted in ex­ten­sive floor dam­age lead­ing to a re­pair bill that was ap­prox­i­mately 80 per cent of the pur­chase price of the car when new. While the Honda Jazz and Toy­ota Yaris came out worst in this 10km/h smack test, the most pop­u­lar small car on the New Zealand mar­ket, the Suzuki Swift, fared lit­tle bet­ter.

“In Aus­tralia you don’t see many older Suzukis on the road, be­cause, like many small cars with in­ef­fec­tive bumpers, they quickly be­come un­eco­nomic to re­pair”.

Suzuki New Zealand re­sponded to the neg­a­tive 10km/h test re­sult by say­ing that the Swift had been de­signed to crum­ple, to ab­sorb crash en­ergy and de­flect it away from the oc­cu­pants of the car. How­ever McDon­ald is adamant that bet­ter bumper bars can be fit­ted to a car with­out com­pro­mis­ing oc­cu­pant safety.

“It doesn’t have to be ei­ther safety or re­pair costs – the two aren’t mu­tu­ally exclusive. The bar is usu­ally fit­ted to a box which is de­signed to crush like a con­certina. It can ab­sorb all the dam­age in im­pacts up to 15km/h, and re­sult in quicker re­pairs that have less im­pact on the car’s struc­tural in­tegrity.”

Mazda took a more sym­pa­thetic ap­proach when McDon­ald’s team high­lighted that the shift­ing of Mazda2 pro­duc­tion from Ja­pan to Thai­land had re­sulted in the rear bumper beam be­ing deleted. ABOVE - US mar­ket Fit looks just like a Jazz, but per­forms bet­ter in low speed crashes thanks to the fit­ment of proper bumper bars says McDon­ald.

“When we pointed out that the 2 lacked a rear bumper bar, they quickly fit­ted them to the lat­est ver­sions.”

McDon­ald sees the IAG re­search cen­tre and ANCAP test­ing as be­com­ing in­creas­ingly im­por­tant given Tas­man Sea mar­kets source more of their au­to­mo­tive prod­ucts from fac­to­ries on the Asian con­ti­nent. There are cru­cial dif­fer­ences be­tween cars made for emerg­ing mar­kets and those made for Euro­pean and North Amer­i­can con­sump­tion, and car mak­ers are delet­ing com­po­nents from cars made for Asian mar­kets in or­der to be more cost-com­pet­i­tive.

“Our Swift is dif­fer­ent from the Suzuki Swift they sell in the UK, and we have other cars miss­ing rear bumper bars.”

“We are see­ing more and more of it as peo­ple try to re­duce costs and build cars for some of those cheaper mar­kets, and we (Aus­tralia and New Zealand) are be­ing lumped in with those.”

Re­cently, the IAG re­search team gave the Thai-made Honda Jazz the 10km/h rear im­pact test and com­pared the re­sult with the same test con­ducted on a car mod­i­fied with a rear bumper from the US-sold Honda Fit. The US ver­sion of the Jazz cost less than $2000 to re­pair while the re­pair of the Thai-made Honda cost nearly $8000 de­spite be­ing es­sen­tially the same car when viewed from a dis­tance.

“Honda would have prob­a­bly saved only a few dol­lars build­ing each Jazz in Thai­land by delet­ing the rear bumper bar re­in­force­ment of the US-mar­ket Fit.”

IAG is the only in­sur­ance part­ner of ANCAP, and McDon­ald is quick to de­fend the im­por­tance of the lat­ter or­gan­i­sa­tion de­spite the im­mi­nent demise of the Aus­tralian car-mak­ing in­dus­try.

“We need it more than ever be­cause cars are be­com­ing more lo­calised. For ex­am­ple, the Hyundai Tus­con is a five-star ve­hi­cle in Europe, but only got four stars from ANCAP be­cause of the dif­fer­ences we found in the RHD ver­sion sold here.

“ANCAP is also the only in­de­pen­dent crash-tester of many of the Thai-made utes that are now in­creas­ingly com­mon in our mar­ket(s), so it’s re­ally im­por­tant for us to keep our in­de­pen­dence.

“I have two Havals (the SUV arm of Great Wall) in the work­shop at present and they’re not cur­rently be­ing tested by any­body else. Many of the emerg­ing brands are prov­ing chal­leng­ing and some are only get­ting two stars at present so there’s plenty for ANCAP to do.”

He sees ANCAP con­duct­ing more au­dit test­ing in the fu­ture be­cause of the fre­quent changes in sourc­ing.

“For ex­am­ple, when Ford moved the pro­duc­tion of the Fi­esta from Europe to Thai­land the car changed sig­nif­i­cantly in trim, ap­pear­ance and el­e­ments of the car’s re­fin­ish­ing.”

There has been a bit of con­fu­sion in the mar­ket­place caused by dif­fer­ences in the rat­ings of ANCAP and EuroNCAP; the lat­ter is in­clud­ing ad­vanced safety sys­tems in its rat­ings while ANCAP is yet to do so.

“This has led, for ex­am­ple, to BMW’s 2 Se­ries Ac­tive Tourer be­ing awarded five stars in Europe, but only scor­ing four stars here. For the BMW i3, it’s the other way round – four stars in Europe, and five here. Steps have been taken to en­sure these dis­crep­an­cies will not oc­cur in the fu­ture”.

McDon­ald sees car design rac­ing to­wards a point where struc­tural crash re­pairs will no longer be such an is­sue due to the use of sen­si­ble design and crash avoid­ance tech­nol­ogy. Bet­ter bumpers and au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing are seen as ob­vi­ous ex­am­ples.

Mean­time, “re­pair costs are con­stantly ris­ing so our role at the IAG Re­search Cen­tre is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly im­por­tant.”

Pho­tos Sup­plied

RHD Tuc­son scored four-stars in ANCAP test­ing at first, but Hyundai has since

made changes to achieve an ANCAP

five-star rat­ing.

BE­LOW LEFT - Haval, a Chi­nese brand not cur­rently be­ing in­de­pen­dently crash tested. BE­LOW RIGHT - BMW 2 Se­ries, is it a four- or five-star car?

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