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Stability comes standard: All Subaru MkIII Impreza hatches feature VDC.

ANCAP to make stability control a prerequisite for a five-star crash test rating

General News logo4 Sep 2007

THE Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) will formally recognise the importance of electronic stability control (ESC) systems as part of its crashworthiness rating system from next year, when the potentially life-saving vehicle safety technology becomes a prerequisite for achieving a maximum five-star crash-test result.

The official endorsement of ESC by Australia’s peak vehicle safety body partly addresses criticism of the ANCAP rating system on the basis that it does not take into account active collision avoidance systems like ESC and that the one-off test results are not as accurate or “real-world” as the many more in-house tests they conduct themselves.

ANCAP has long encouraged consumers to purchase vehicles with a full complement of six airbags and stability control, but for the first time will factor ESC fitment into its star rating system.

“It’s difficult to assess the crash safety rating of stability control,” said ANCAP chairman Lauchlan McIntosh. “(But) from 2008 a five-star rating will not be possible without ESC.” Mr McIntosh, who as GoAuto reported two weeks ago joined in the call by Victorian chief coroner Graeme Johnstone to implement “a timetable and a methodology for an accelerated uptake (of ESC) across Australia’s entire car and truck fleet”, was speaking as a guest of Subaru at last week’s Impreza hatch launch.

Subaru has become the latest in a procession of car brands to use safety, and more specifically ESC, as a key marketing tool with which to sell cars.

The Japanese maker says the standard fitment of ESC (or Vehicle Dynamics Control, in Subaru-speak) across the entire new Impreza range sets a new benchmark for the small-car segment, in which most models offer it only as an optional extra.

“That we have embraced VDC is a key plank of Subaru’s safety message,” said Subaru Australia managing director Nick Senior. “Undeniably we hold the high ground in the small car segment when it comes to the total safety package.

“Ten years ago people didn’t give two hoots about safety – now it’s a number two or three priority.” The third-generation Impreza is the first vehicle to achieve both a maximum five-star occupant safety score and a maximum four-star pedestrian safety score from ANCAP, following tests at its Australian crash-lab six weeks prior to its release on July 19.

ANCAP crash tests, which can cost $50,000 each or up to $200,000 per vehicle, are co-funded by all Australian and New Zealand motoring clubs, all Australian state governments, the New Zealand government and statutory transport bodies – but only donated vehicles undergo a side-on pole test, which is a prerequisite to be eligible for a five-star result.

Mr McIntosh said donations were common in Europe, where ENCAP testing is carried out at around half the cost, but rare in Australia – especially pre-release.

Subaru announced with great fanfare last week that it was Australia’s first car company to achieve maximum independent safety ratings for its entire range of vehicles.

80 center imageAll five Subaru Australia models have now undergone 64km/h frontal offset, 50km/h side impact, 40km/h pedestrian and (optional) 29km/h pole tests, with the new Impreza scoring a solid 14.93 points out of 16 in the offset test (Subaru had expected only 13.5), 15.73 points out of 16 in the side impact test, two points out of two for the pole test and two points out of three for seatbelt warnings for a total of 34.66 (from a possible 37). The Impreza scored 27.76 points out of 36 in the pedestrian test.

The five-year-old Forester X with optional Luxury Pack became Subaru’s first model (and the first compact SUV, as well as the first Japanese-built vehicle) to score a five-star ANCAP occupant safety rating in early 2003, before the maximum crash score was extended to the whole Forester line-up when side airbags became standard across the range in September 2005.

ANCAP awarded a five-star occupant safety rating to all Outback and Liberty variants in March 2004, and the same accolade was heaped on the new Tribeca medium SUV from its launch in October 2006.

However, Mr Senior stopped short of backing calls to make ESC mandatory for all new passenger cars, no doubt because only 70 per cent of all new Subarus sold come with it as standard. Nor do all Forester variants feature side curtain airbags.

The company, which has marketed the safety of its “symmetrical all-wheel drive” system as standard across the range since 1999, recently made VDC standard for all MY08 Liberty and Outback variants except naturally-aspirated four-cylinder manual versions, but says that will change within 12 months.

ANCAP’s embracing of ESC follows a Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) announcement last week that the combined proportion of new passenger cars and SUVs fitted with standard ESC has grown from 20 per cent to 34.7 per cent in just 12 months – and from just two per cent of all vehicles on Australian roads in late 2005.

According to the FCAI, between January and June 2007, 30.6 per cent of new cars and 48.1 per cent of new SUVs sold in Australia featured ESC. However, some 54 per cent of new passenger vehicles sold in New Zealand in April were equipped with ESC.

As GoAuto reported last month, Bosch-supplied figures reveal the ESC take-up rate in the US stands at 46 per cent and 45 per cent in Europe. In Japan , only 25 per cent of new cars come with ESC, while 26 per cent of cars sold in South Korea and just five per cent of cars sold in China have the safety feature. The US government has approved a phased plan to mandate ESC in all passenger vehicles by September 2011.

Hyundai first upped the ante for ESC in the local small-car category 12 months ago, when it claimed its fourth-generation Elantra sedan (priced from $19,990) became Australia’s second most affordable five-seat model (excluding two-seat Smart models) to be available with stability control – after the same maker’s own Getz light hatch.

However, ESC remains optional on most small cars (or even unavailable, as is the case with Toyota’s top-selling Corolla, which could soon overtake Holden’s Commodore as Australia’s most popular model) and Hyundai last month attracted criticism for dropping ESC from the entry level Santa Fe SUV.

The addition of standard VDC to all Camrys produced from this month means all of Australia’s locally-built models now feature ESC, with the exception of Mitsubishi’s 380 and some Ford Falcon variants.

Four-star crash safety ratings were awarded to Toyota’s Aurion and Camry sedans and Holden’s VE Commodore sedan (all of which now offer ESC as standard), matching the result previously achieved by Ford’s Falcon and Mitsubishi’s 380. Only the Aurion was eligible for a pole test and therefore a potential five-star rating because it features side curtain airbags, but Toyota declined the optional test.

* Last week Euro NCAP awarded a maximum five-star adult occupant safety ratings to the new Fiat 500, Peugeot 308 and Kia Cee’d (the Korean maker’s first five-star NCAP result) – all of which should eventually be sold in Australia. While the Renault Twingo scored a four-star occupant rating, only the 308 posted a three-star pedestrian safety score.

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