Nissan cancels zero-star car after graphic crash test

Gulf in safety standards between developed and developing markets

Nissan Versa vs Nissan Tsuru in a car-to-car crash test arranged by Global NCAP
(c) Global NCAP

Amid ongoing publicity about the poor safety standards provided by car manufacturers for vehicles sold in Latin America and other developing countries, Nissan has announced it will cease production of its “zero-star” Tsuru model in six months’ time.

Global NCAP, along with Latin NCAP and supported by Euro NCAP and other safety organisations, has repeatedly criticised global car manufacturers for selling cars in Latin America which do not include even offer basic safety equipment.

The safety bodies organised a car-to-car crash test this week, in which two Nissans – both built in Mexico – were crashed into one another. One car was a Nissan Versa, built for export to the USA, which scored the equivalent of five stars in its crash test rating. The second car was a Nissan Tsuru, also built in Mexico but for developing markets, which was rated zero stars in its Latin NCAP crash tests. The purpose of the test was to highlight the difference in crash performance between what is considered acceptable for cars sold in developed markets and what is still sold in other parts of the world.

The Versa has been on sale for the last five years, and is one of the cheapest new cars on sale in the USA. Like most modern cars, it has six airbags and is also fitted as standard with an electronic stability program to help prevent or mitigate crashes. It is built in several factories around the world and sold in many markets under different models names.

The Tsuru is based on a 1991 Nissan Sunny model, predecessor to today’s Versa. It was replaced in the USA in 1994 but has continued in production for the last 22 years in Mexico for sale in parts of Asia, Africa, Central America and South America. It cannot be sold in the USA or Europe as it does not meet modern safety standards – and hasn’t for the last decade or so.

Global NCAP ran a Versa and a Tsuru at one another, each travelling at 40mph. The results were entirely predictable, as shown below. Bear in mind that these were left-hand drive vehicles, so the impacts were on the driver’s side for each car.

If you are not in a position to watch the video, the Versa performed exactly as you would expect a modern family car in this test. Airbags deployed, crash structures deformed correctly and the driver was as well protected as could be reasonably expected. The Tsuru was a different story. The dummy is clearly shown violently impacting the steering wheel, the dashboard and the A-pillar.

The post-crash report summed up the Tsuru’s performance as follows:

“The results graphically highlighted the urgent need for the Nissan Tsuru to be taken out of production. A driver in the Tsuru would have had high probability of suffering life-threatening injuries; it is likely that the crash would have been fatal. There were no airbags, and the main structures all failed, fatally compromising the survival space.”

On the eve of the widely-promoted test, Nissan announced that it would end production of the Tsuru in May 2017. Although welcoming the decision, Latin NCAP questioned why it had to take so long.

Alejandro Furas, Latin NCAP Secretary General said: “I believe that Nissan made this announcement as a reaction to our campaign to stop the production of zero-star cars in Mexico and across Latin America.

“Our car-to-car crash test demonstrates why these zero-star cars should be removed from the market immediately. In April this year we published a report showing that the Nissan Tsuru had been involved in more than 4,000 deaths on Mexico’s roads between 2007 and 2012.

“Even though we welcome Nissan’s announcement, why should at least 15,000 more units of this potentially life-threatening model be sold between now and May? Why has it taken Nissan three years since we first crash-tested and gave the Tsuru a zero-star rating to take this unsafe car out of production?”

Given that the Tsuru runs the structure of a popular 1990s Nissan model sold around the world, the test also highlighted the level of safety development in the last 25 years. With the number of 1980s and 1990s models still used on a daily basis in the UK and other markets (particularly those with warmer and drier climates like Australia), it graphically illustrated the poor level of occupant protection provided relative to modern vehicles. And obviously a car which has covered 100,000-plus miles over 25 years is going to have lost a substantial amount of its original rigidity over that time.

Fortunately, issues like rust and simple depreciation have accounted for the vast majority of these vehicles in the UK, helped along by the scrappage scheme back in 2009 which saw thousands of older cars removed from the nation’s roads.

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