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Benz vans make five-star history

Safety leader: Mercedes-Benz might yet bite the bullet and make curtain airbags standard across the Vito range.

Mercedes Vito scores top marks, but only if the $800 curtain airbag option is ticked

18 Aug 2009

MERCEDES-BENZ’S Vito van and Viano people-mover are the first vehicles in their class to achieve a five-star Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) result this week.

However, this level of protection is still not standard in the Vito, since customers in the extremely price-sensitive medium van segment must fork out an extra $800 for the curtain airbags that help the Mercedes commercial vehicle achieve the five-star result.

The base Vito 109 CDI with curtain airbags starts at $40,290.

A Mercedes-Benz spokesman told GoAuto that curtain airbag take-up has been low, but that an advertising campaign and other publicity events such as the media announcement at the Trauma Unit of the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne this week should greatly increase customer awareness and uptake for the curtain airbags.

Without them, the Vito scores a four-star ANCAP rating, which still makes it the highest scoring van in its class.

Electronic stability control was added when the current-generation Vito was launched in Australia in 2006 while curtain airbags have been available since the beginning of this year.

4 center imageLeft: Mercedes-Benz Viano. Below: Toyota HiAce.

According to Mercedes-Benz Australia Commercial Vehicles managing director Ken Matthews, the company is discussing making curtain airbags standard in the Vito as soon as possible – with January 2010 deliveries looming as a likely starting point for curtain airbag standardisation for Vito.

“I think it will gradually become standard,” Mr Matthews said.

“There are still some commercial aspects with the introduction of technology like this. Not all the competitors have it, and therefore there is that issue of the (extra cost).

“(But) we are going to consider whether we are going to do that.

“In the scope of the total cost of the vehicle, $800 is not a significant cost.

“We can get it in as standard within a couple of months of production.

“At the end of the day it will be myself and Campbell (York, senior executive for Mercedes-Benz vans), based on what we see is the market reaction and the take-up rate for it.

“But I probably think we will tick the box and make it standard.”

Mr Matthews acknowledges that Mercedes-Benz may have to take that final step in standardising curtain airbags in the Vito to remain at the vanguard of commercial vehicle safety.

“In some ways it is really incumbent on us to really do that, because we put the hard miles in and the hard yards in to get that five-star rating, and I think that if we sit back and relax and let the market dictate it, we may only get a pick up of 10 to 15 per cent pick up (of curtain airbags) in the first year, and that would hardly be satisfactory from my point of view,” he said.

“And as soon as we tick the box and say ‘yes, let’s do it’ we will force it in a lot quicker.

“As an old commercial vehicle guy, I am quite excited about getting that five-star rating.”

Mercedes’ senior manager of corporate communications David McCarthy said the van market’s extreme price sensitivity would greatly reduce the competitiveness of the Vito against many far-less crashworthy rivals, and that even the standard non-curtain airbag model performed better than any other van in the ANCAP tests.

“Most of the competition is significantly cheaper, and do not have ESP (stability control) or anti-lock brakes,” he said.

“The issue is the $800. We’ve done a comparison with the Toyota Hiace spec-for-spec, over a five-year period with a 30 per cent residual, and (Vito) with side airbags costs less than a dollar a day extra in total life cost. And total life cost is the key.” ANCAP chairman Lauchlan McIntosh applauded the five-star result, calling it a “milestone” for commercial vehicles.

However, he added that the rest of the commercial vehicle industry must follow the gauntlet thrown down by the Vito with curtain airbags.

“We have seen over the last 12 months manufacturers actively working to build safety into vans, and it is pleasing to see these improvements showing through with a number of four-star ratings prior to today’s announcement of the Mercedes-Benz five-star result.

“This five-star result demonstrates that commercial vehicles can and should be just as safe as passenger cars.

“We have seen the family car, utes and now light commercial vehicles become safer in the interests of all consumers.”

Last week, before the Vito results were made public, ANCAP called on companies and fleet managers to provide a safer workplace in light commercial vans they purchased for their employees by examining state and federal occupational health and safety legislation.

ANCAP voiced concerns that some vans are at a higher risk of serious injury in accidents than others, so that ensuring their safety and security fell under OH&S guidelines.

Furthermore, of the nine light commercial vans tested to date, none has achieved a five-star rating, and some dipped to just a single star.

“Light commercial vehicles don’t have to meet the same Australian vehicle safety regulations as cars, and this shows up in ANCAP rating results,” Mr McIntosh revealed.

“Real-world accident statistics show the risk of serious or fatal injury is halved in a four or five-star vehicle compared with a one or two-star rated vehicle,” he said.

“This means that one in every two fatalities in a poorly performing van could be prevented if the occupant had been in a four or five star vehicle.

“Given the wide disparity in ANCAP results for commercial vehicles, it is no longer sufficient to use compliance with these regulations as a benchmark for safety.” Alongside the Vito with no curtain airbags, the other four-star vans tested by ANCAP are Hyundai iLoad and Volkswagen T5 Transporter.

The Toyota HiAce – the bestseller in this class – achieved only three stars in the ANCAP rating, as did the Ford Transit, while the Mitsubishi Express – hobbled by a design dating back to 1986 – managed only one star.

Along with its European EuroNCAP sister organisation, ANCAP did frontal-offset, side-offset and pole crash tests to validate the five-star result for the Vito with curtain airbags.

“This latest test sees the Vito and Viano score a five-star rating with 32.66 out of a possible 37, again a new benchmark for commercial vehicles in the Australian market,” Mr McCarthy said.

Last year, more than 1500 Vito and Viano vehicles were sold in Australia.

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