Has ANCAP lost the plot on car safety for Australia?
My recent report: Hyundai Tucson Crash Test Shocker >> certainly kicked the hornet's nest. Partly because I labelled that vehicle a 'CX-5 killer' ... before it was crash tested here in Australia.
That crash test was a disaster for both Tucson and Hyundai. It scored five stars in Europe and yet only four stars here, highlighting some serious structural deficiencies in the right footwell.
Just to be clear: The current Tucson is on my 'don't buy' list for now. A re-test is in the wings, and five-star is what Hyundai is aiming for. Watch this space. If you need a five-seat SUV now, buy a Mazda CX-5 >>
But the Tucson's score is, in a sense a bad look for ANCAP, the privately owned but publicly funded Australasian New Car Assessment Program. Take a look why:
I was ready to pull the trigger on a Tuscon based on generally great reviews, then this. ANCAP's rating looks a bit peculiar in that they've specified that it applies to petrol 2WD models. Some commentary is highlighting that diesel models are produced in a different factory (and country) than the tested vehicle. The theories advanced for the failure (under-engineered RHD conversion) don't give me a lot of hope that the diesel model would perform differently, but am I wrong in this assumption? Is ANCAP likely to put the other models to the test? I guess I'm a bit heartened that Hyundai's response indicates that they're taking the result seriously - Daniel
Daniel, I had an off-the-record conversation with a senior executive at Hyundai on this, and I can tell you they are taking it seriously, and they’re moving fast on a fix, there’s going to be a re-test, and five-star is the goal. But it’s not a foregone conclusion. You’re quite correct that some Tucsons are built in South Korea and the rest in the Czech Republic. (Tucson Active and Active X from South Korea; Elite and Highlander from Europe.) We will never know the granular detail of structural integrity differences between the two factories, or the model variants.
ANCAP usually tests only one model variant of each model - because the crash-test process costs a lot. Thinking like an engineer, it makes sense to test the variant least likely to be five-star, and then you can safely assume the models above that are five-star - in concert with some robust engineering analysis.
TESTED IN ... EUROPE. IS THAT OK WITH YOU?
Ridiculously enough, ANCAP shoots itself in the foot routinely by accepting left-hand drive results from EuroNCAP when it suits them - as a matter of convenience. They’ve done this with the Audi A4, the BMW 3-Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, among many others. ANCAP gives these vehicles, and many others, a five-star gong … with the caveat (quoted below).
TOP FIVE AFFORDABLE SMALL CARS (YTD OCT 2015)
Of the top five affordable small cars (left) all are five-star cars in Australia, according to ANCAP. Three - Mazda3, i30 and Golf - had their ratings determined based on crash tests conducted by EuroNCAP.
Of these three - which comprise 62 per cent of the total by volume, we therefore have no idea of how the structural integrity of the RHD footwells would affect the star rating, or safety outcomes for crash-involved drivers in Australia. Pathetic.
The sales figures (YTD Oct 2015) are:
- Corolla (35,174) - ANCAP test
- Mazda3 (32,095) - EuroNCAP test
- i30 (27,808) - EuroNCAP test
- Golf (18,843) - EuroNCAP test
- Cruze (12,948) - ANCAP test
Of the top five affordable medium SUVs (right) all are five-star vehicles in Australia, according to ANCAP. Four of them - the top-selling CX-5, plus RAV4, X-TRAIL and Outlander - had their ratings determined based on crash tests conducted by EuroNCAP. Only the Forester was tested here.
Of these four - which comprise 86 per cent of the total by volume, we therefore have no idea of how the structural integrity of the RHD footwells would affect the star rating, or safety outcomes for crash-involved drivers in Australia. Pathetic.
The sales figures (YTD Oct 2015) are:
- CX-5 (21,050) - EuroNCAP test
- RAV4 (15,467) - EuroNCAP test
- X-TRAIL (14,512) - EuroNCAP test
- Forester (9878) - ANCAP test
- Outlander (8732) - EuroNCAP test
TOP FIVE AFFORDABLE MEDIUM SUVs (YTD OCT 2015)
RIGHT-HAND DRIVE CRASHWORTHINESS? HOUSTON, WE REALLY HAVE NO IDEA...
Above: Many vehicles - including the Mazda CX-5, Mazda3, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and A-Class, BMW 3 Series and X3, and the Audi A3 and A4 - are awarded five-star crashworthiness ratings by ANCAP in absence of right-drive crash tests - and hence no physical or independent evidence of adequate structural integrity for Australia
“The left-hand-drive European model was tested by EuroNCAP. Australasian specifications may vary and therefore models sold in Australasia might provide different levels of protection to those described on this page.” - official ANCAP statement
So, that’s a kind of perverse, one-size-fits-all, might-actually-be-a-death-trap disclaimer. Paraphrasing: We’re happy to lunch off the expensive crash tests overseas on some left-drive cars, and then fudge the figures after looking at Aussie equipment specifications, but we really have no-friggin’-idea about the structural integrity of the right-drive versions of any cars tested by EuroNCAP. But we’ll give them a five-star rating anyway. After all, it’s only safety we’re talking about. Give me strength...
If ANCAP is happy to use EuroNCAP’s test results and award five-star ratings as a result, doesn’t Tucson’s crash performance warrant ANCAP grabbing the nearest mirror and having a good, hard look at itself? It certainly does in my book. ANCAP boss James Goodwin is happy to rabbit on about the importance of ANCAP’s independent testing, which I just shake my head at - seeing as, in many of its ratings, it doesn’t actually do any of that.
If there is actually a difference between the way left- and right-drive vehicles crash, doesn’t this warrant further investigation?
SAFETY ... OR SPIN?
The information about Tucson’s crashworthiness was determined by ANCAP - with crash tests done here. ANCAP’s relatively new CEO, James Goodwin, used the result as an opportunity to spruik ANCAP - shamelessly, in my view. Mr Goodwin said:
“This demonstrates the importance of the independent testing conducted by ANCAP to continually improve the safety of the vehicle fleet.” - ANCAP boss James Goodwin
Apart from the inexcusable split infinitive in that statement - and, as a former journalist, allegedly, Mr Goodwin, you should know better - but apart from mangling the language, this statement speaks volumes about ANCAP’s real underlying agenda.
ANCAP is is full-on self-preservation mode. And, as many of you know, I’m in a full-on jihad against bullshit. This is weapons-grade bullshit, as defined by Princeton University's Professor of Philosophy Emeritus Harry G Frankfurt. ANCAP is in fact a private company - that you and I pay for, because it is funded by the Federal and state governments. ANCAP does good work, certainly, but now, with the demise of the local car manufacturing industry, that work could be done more efficiently by existing NCAP organisations overseas - all they need to do - and this is vitally important - is to test Australian-spec vehicles, as they come off the production line. It’s that simple.
I don’t know about you, but I’m happy to fund that testing. We need it. I really don’t know, however, that I want to pay for the offices in Canberra, the board of directors, the lunches, and the endless taxpayer-funded bullshit meetings about self-justification and self-promotion. We don’t need that. Find someone else to fund that, Mr Goodwin. All we really need is information about the safety of the vehicles. And let’s not forget there is a whole department of infrastructure, which could absorb ANCAP’s vestigial remaining functions without putting a single additional public servant on the payroll. ANCAP - in its current state - is, unfortunately, a dinosaur - and that fateful meteor has already hit the dirt.
About ANCAP: Is it fair to say a five-star rating today was not achievable a few years ago? Where will five-star be in a few more years? I wonder if it will only go to fully autonomous cars? - Eddie Moore
Eddie, ANCAP has done a fantastic job for many years now, but in my view they’re not just losing the plot - they’ve lost it. ANCAP exists because of regulatory deficiency - the official crash test protocols (the government certification ones) - are a joke. Every car on sale passes with flying colours there. And for 15 of the past 20 years, ANCAP has been quite a coercive influence on carmakers - shaming them to do better when they released various safety shitboxes among us.
But the crash tests themselves - 64km/h offset frontal impact, 50km/h side impact and 29km/h side-on pole impact - really haven't changed, and they're at the core of the ratings. Everything else is an apparently moveable feast of changing the hair and makeup.
What has really changed is ANCAP's attitude. It's fat and weak, particularly under new management. ANCAP is becoming irrelevant. Let’s not forget, ANCAP’s two functions are to shame poor safety performances and make a very complex issue - safety - digestible for ordinary consumers.
So you’ve got a five-star ANCAP ratings system, and the vast majority of cars are five. And the rest are nearly all four. There are very few threes and below in mainstream cars. So it’s really just a two-star system for the majority of buyers - and that does not adequately differentiate between all of those vehicles in the five-star camp. It doesn’t identify safety excellence, which is certainly what you want. And as a consequence people think four stars is pretty good, when really it generally isn’t. I mean, in a sane system, four stars is nearly five. But with ANCAP, four stars actually describes the worst safety performances available in many classes of vehicles. How is a non-technical consumer supposed to swallow this kind of bullshit sandwich?
So ANCAP has lost its way, and therefore its relevance, and they’re funded by us. They keep having hokey meetings about justifying themselves, and heading off overseas to even bigger bullshit meetings where they get to disagree with other NCAP organisations over the finer details, at our expense. And they keep issuing press releases that should be about vehicle safety, but are really about how vital ANCAP is, allegedly.
ANCAP is not the force for consumer good that it once was.
Obviously, five-star needs to be hard to achieve and represent the best-case crashworthiness and crash prevention systems available to consumers, so it needs to keep evolving as technology increases. Personally, I find it really hard to justify allowing anything less than today’s five-star on Australian roads - and that’s a regulatory failure. Turn the safety shitboxes away, and differentiate excellence from there.