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Budget utes criticised after poor crash-test results

Crushing blow: The Great Wall SA220 shows the effects of the ANCAP front offset crash test.

Proton Jumbuck scores just one star from ANCAP while Great Wall utes get two stars

29 Sep 2009

THE safety of cheap imported utilities was questioned again this week after the independent Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) handed down a damning one-star-out-of-five crash-test result for the Proton Jumbuck and two stars for the Great Wall Motors SA220 and V240.

While the ageing Jumbuck’s rating was expected after Proton Cars Australia last month moved to head off criticism of the impending ANCAP result, announcing that a redesigned version of the Malaysian-built ute would be released in the first half of 2010, it was not anticipated that both new Chinese-built utilities from Great Wall Motors would score just two stars.

ANCAP program manager and RACV chief engineer Michael Case said this week he was concerned about the widening gap between Australian Design Rules (ADRs) – the minimum standards a vehicle must achieve to be sold in Australia – and ANCAP’s testing.

“Crash statistics show that occupants of one- or two-star vehicles have twice the risk of receiving life-threatening injuries in a crash, compared with four- or five-star vehicles, at a time when four- and five-star ratings are becoming increasingly available for new-car buyers,” Mr Case said.

“New vehicles that achieve only a one- or two-star ANCAP rating, while meeting the ADRs, are a cause for concern.”

 center imageFrom top: Great Wall V240, Proton Jumbuck, Mercedes-Benz Vito-based Viano.

Great Wall Motors importer Ateco Automotive emphasised to GoAuto this week – as it did at the vehicles’ launch in June – that life-saving features such as airbags and ABS brakes were not available from the Chinese manufacturer on the SA220.

Although Ateco has included that equipment on the V240, along with other important items such as a high-mounted stoplight, the overall ANCAP star rating has now proven to be no better than the model without airbags.

While Ateco described the V240’s two-star rating as a “solid outcome”, ANCAP chairman Lauchlan McIntosh said it was “disappointing”.

“What we’ve been saying at ANCAP for a long time is that people need to rely on the tests, not the equipment,” Mr McIntosh told GoAuto. “Just equipping a car with airbags doesn’t guarantee a good result. It should guarantee a better result, but it’s the structure and the whole system that’s really important – and that’s why we test the cars.

“My feeling is the ADRs are becoming redundant, and what we need to see is more recognition by fleet managers that they will only buy four- and five-star cars. That would be a much simpler way to go ahead with the issue than wait for what seems to be an eternity to lift the standards in the ADRs.”

The latest results are in stark contrast with the five-star result handed down recently to the Mercedes-Benz Vito – the first commercial vehicle to reach the mark in Australia – and a commendable four-star result for the South Korean-built Hyundai iLoad van.

ANCAP Council chairman and VicRoads manager of vehicle safety Ross McArthur said the Great Wall results were particularly disappointing given they were new models to the market.

“The SA220 and the Jumbuck lack airbags and other safety features that are expected as standard equipment by new-car buyers,” Mr McArthur said. “The V240 has dual airbags but these failed to protect the driver and passenger from injury in our crash tests.”

Victorian Transport Accident Commission (TAC) senior manager for road safety David Healy said all three vehicles performed poorly in the all-important frontal offset crash test.

“All experienced loss of cabin structural integrity, with poor head and leg protection at impact,” Mr Healy said. “There were high injury measurements for driver and passenger in all three vehicles.”

Proton Cars Australia managing director John Startari told GoAuto last month he was frustrated that ANCAP chose to test the soon-to-be-replaced Jumbuck ute and that the rating could stick to the nameplate long after the redesigned version was introduced.

“If someone goes on to the ANCAP website and types in ‘Proton’, the only model to come up will be the Jumbuck and that is not a true representation of our range,” Mr Startari said. “We hope they will test the new model Jumbuck as soon as possible.”

Mr McIntosh defended the test, arguing that government agencies, fleet owners and consumers had a right to know that the vehicle, which remains on sale in Proton showrooms, performed to a one-star standard. And he would not undertake to test the new-generation ute as soon as it was launched.

“It depends on the volume, and I guess the market generally and our resources,” he said. “It is up to Proton – they can encourage the test earlier – but we test to a regularly published schedule. Just because it’s a bad result now and they’re supposedly bringing out a new vehicle shortly, we’ll wait and see when that vehicle comes out.” Meanwhile, Ateco Automotive spokesman Daniel Cotterill told GoAuto that a Great Wall Motors safety engineer attended one of the ANCAP tests and that the Chinese manufacturer was now analysing the data and considering changes to the V240.

He said that no safety improvements to the SA220 were expected because of its “mature design”.

“From our point of view, I would say that the V240 has scored a ‘high’ two-star result … which we feel here at Ateco is a pretty solid outcome,” Mr Cotterill said.

“I don’t intend to get into any sort of an argument or slanging match with ANCAP or anyone from there – and we’re not disagreeing with their result at all. There’s no quibbling about it, the umpire has had their say – but we do consider it to be a solid result for this type of vehicle.”

This week’s results follow concerns raised by a number of bodies since the arrival of Great Wall Motors in Australia, including the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce (VACC) and the Society of Automotive Engineers – Australasia (SAE-A).

Earlier this month, VACC executive director David Purchase stressed that a work vehicle provided by an employer was just as much a workplace as an office, factory or warehouse – and that employers must select vehicles with the best protection they can for their workers on the road.

“It is astonishing that there are still vehicles, in this day and age, that only qualify for a one-star ANCAP safety rating. One importer, Kia, has withdrawn its Pregio van from the Australian market due to its very low crash-test performance,” he said.

“Why should there have ever been a different standard of compliance and obligation for work vehicles in matters of safety and risk prevention, as opposed to fixed plant and equipment where there is zero tolerance for low standards of safety.”

Soon after the Chinese utes were launched, the SAE-A called on the federal government to make airbags and ABS brakes compulsory on all vehicles sold in Australia, and urged that forthcoming legislation mandating the fitment of electronic stability control (ESC) be broadened to include light-commercial vehicles.

In a broad reference to Great Wall Motors, the SAE-A said: “Some imported commercial vehicles include luxury fittings, such as air-conditioning, alloy wheels, electric windows and leather trim as standard, while key safety devices – airbags, ABS brakes and a single-mounted high stop light – are optional, or as in the case of a recently released imported vehicle, not available at all.

“As a minimum, SAE-A wants airbags and ABS to be fitted to vehicles sold in Australia today. Given the worldwide availability of these technologies at competitive prices, the society says it is difficult to imagine why any new vehicle would be allowed on the Australian market in 2009 without these features.”

Ateco Automotive managing director Ric Hull told GoAuto in June that the importer would like to see more safety equipment available on the SA220, but was not expecting this to occur in the near future.

“It wasn’t a conscious decision on our part to delete or not take them as an option, let’s put it that way,” he said. “They are just not available on the vehicle. We would like to see them, of course, but I am not sure that will be possible.

“That car will compete primarily in the used-car market, and none of its competitors would have those items either.”

The Indian-built Mahindra Pik-Up also achieved a poor two-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in 2008, but a recent upgrade brought the introduction of airbags and front seatbelt pretensioners and the standard fitment of ABS brakes.

Its Australian distributor Mahindra Automotive Australia now believes the vehicle would achieve four stars under ANCAP, based on its own in-house testing, although this is still to be verified.

In that 2008 round of testing done in both Australia and Europe, below-par three-star results were also handed down the Holden Rodeo, Nissan Navara (upgraded from one star with revised airbag software) and the Mazda BT-50, which is a mechanical twin with the Ford Ranger.

At the same time, Mitsubishi scored four stars with its Triton, and Holden the same number with its VE Ute – ratings that placed them alongside Ford’s FG Falcon Ute and the Toyota HiLux at the top of the class.

However, the recent Model Year 2010 update to the Holden Ute, which boosted its airbag count to six and added a steering column shroud to further improve driver protection in the event of a crash, has now made it eligible to become the first five-star utility sold in Australia.

All Holden Utes are fitted with ESC, traction control and ABS brakes with EBD and brake assist.

Ford Australia is also eligible to achieve a five-star rating for its Falcon Ute, despite offering side head/thorax airbags as options across the range and restricting standard ESC to XR6 level or higher. It could achieve the accolade if it made these items standard, or if it funded a side pole test to test its side-impact protection.

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