July 20, 2003 | Indian Express

Crash testing for dummies (and why we don’t do it)

The Mahindra Scorpio is every yuppie’s dream Sports Utility Vehicle: it’s affordable, it’s comfortable, and it looks muscular.

We say ‘‘looks’’ because the Scorpio has never been crash-tested since its launch a year ago. It has smoothly passed all mandatory tests in India, but crash tests? India doesn’t ask for them.

Anyway, the Scorpio is finally being crash tested abroad—only because it’s slated for exports to Western markets. You’ll know the results only by the end of the year. Mahindra currently exports the Scorpio to Italy, Serbia and Sri Lanka, where the norms, like India, are a lot less stringent.

‘‘The Scorpio is a robust vehicle, and its basic structural design has undergone computer-simulated crash tests,’’ explained Pawan Goenka, Mahindra and Mahindra’s chief operating officer. ‘‘The actual physical tests, can only be performed abroad since there exist no facilities in India to do so. ‘‘We go by what a country demands, but we are certain of the Scorpio’s crash-worthiness. If at all, there are changes to be made, these will be minor ones and will be incorporated in all vehicles.’’ It’s not just made-in-India SUVs. From the days of the venerable Ambassador, India’s cars, trucks and other vehicles have never been tested for their safety in crashes.

It’s strange but true today that in a country where expressways and world-class highways are emerging, a country that’s set to become an automotive hub of many a global giant, safety regulations are still vaguely defined, especially when it comes to crash-testing. The steering-impact test and the seat-belt anchorage test are the only two required. That’s far removed from international norms that insist on comprehensive tests that involve subjecting a car to frontal, frontal-offset, and side-on impacts. India has just two centres for crash testing: the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) and a private outfit in Bangalore.

Moreover, the tests a new car has to undergo to be proven crash-worthy are very few — the steering impact test and the seat-belt anchorage test. ‘‘It will take us at least three years to start matching global norms,’’ said B. Bhanot, director, ARAI.

Another factor that inhibits crash-testing is the cost: beyond a crore of rupees. A thorough test done abroad will involve dummies, with inbuilt sensors, that do the work of simulating humans during a crash.

Auto analysts have also express doubts over the crash-worthiness of India’s largest-selling car, the Maruti 800.

But Dr K. Kumar, advisor (engineering), Maruti Udyog said that the M800 has ‘‘been constantly undergoing various upgrades" designed to strengthen its structural integrity, and has undergone tests that have certified its crash-worthiness in the countries it is exported to and in India. ‘‘When new norms come into play, the Maruti 800, which is capable of meeting global norms right now, will also conform to them,’’ Kumar said.

While Tata has crash-tested both the Safari and the Indica, the same, however, cannot be said of the Sumo, the manufacturer’s multi-utility vehicle. Says a Tata Engineering (Telco) official, "The Sumo is based on the same body/frame construction of the Sierra. The latter was tested and certified crash-worthy, which is why the Sumo didn’t need one."

To their credit, however, Tata Engineering is the only manufacturer with a crash-test facility of their own.

The ARAI and the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) have only recently drawn up a ’safety roadmap’ to be implemented over the next decade in stages. Auto expert Murad Ali Baig says that the Indian government is considering implementing stringent testing norms. "But it is being opposed by the auto lobbies. As, once more stringent rules come into play, it will be very difficult for locally manufactured cars, buses and trucks to survive."