Euro NCAP this week published its latest crash test results, which included re-testing cars that have been on sale for a number of years using the latest rating protocols. The results showed how far car safety has progressed in the last decade, with some eye-opening results.
The Fiat Punto was the most dramatic example. Launched back in 2005 as the Grande Punto, it was awarded a five-star rating by Euro NCAP. The car is still on sale twelve years later, largely unchanged although no longer ‘Grande’, but in the meantime, the requirements for a five-star rating have increased considerably.
Many car buyers are unaware that the Euro NCAP safety standards are updated on an annual basis, meaning that the performance required to achieve a five-star result in 2017 is significantly more challenging than it was in 2005 when the Fiat Grande Punto was launched. Euro NCAP also has expiry dates for its ratings, after which time the rating can no longer be promoted by the manufacturers. However, these messages often fail to reach customers.
Many car dealers are also guilty (and have been caught on tape) of continuing to tell customers that a car has a five-star rating long after the rating has expired.
Rating scheme is constantly updated to reflect latest technologies
Nowadays, Euro NCAP’s rating scheme requires cars to score a minimum number of points in all four areas of assessment to qualify for even one star. In areas like adult and child occupant safety and pedestrian protection, the Fiat Punto still performs well enough to qualify for at least two stars. It is let down in driver assistance and crash avoidance: with only a seatbelt reminder system for the driver as standard, zero points were scored in this part of the assessment.
Euro NCAP secretary general, Michiel van Ratingen, expressed his disappointment that the Punto remains on sale without incorporating updates to keep up with rivals: “This is perhaps the strongest example of a manufacturer continuing to sell a product that is well past its best-before date, at the expense of the unsuspecting car buyer.”
Matthew Avery, director of research at the UK’s independent car safety body Thatcham Research, was highly critical of the Punto’s poor performance: “In 2005, the Fiat Punto achieved a good rating. However, Euro NCAP frequently raises the bar in its testing regime – and the Fiat Punto’s adult occupant protection score of 51% is more than 30% below the average for the superminis tested in 2017.
“Yes, this is essentially an old car, but that should have sharpened the focus on fitting safety technologies to counteract it’s dated crash performance.”
Other former five-star cars include the Alfa Romeo Giulietta (five stars in 2010, now rated at three stars), the DS 3 (rated as five stars in 2009 when it was still a Citroën, now three stars) and Ford C-Max (rated five stars in 2010, now three stars in 2017). In all cases, it is the lack of accident avoidance technology that has led to the ratings downgrade – if you are unlucky enough to have an accident in any of these cars, their crash performances are still more than respectable.
Avoiding an accident is much better than surviving one
Since Euro NCAP crash testing began back in 1997, car manufacturers have made great strides in designing and building cars that cope better with bring fired into a wall at speed. Earlier this year, Euro NCAP revisited one of its first test subjects, the 1997 Rover 100, to compare it to a 2017 Honda Jazz – a car equivalent to the Rover in today’s market. The test showed that the occupants of the 1997 Rover would have almost certainly been killed, while those in the 2017 Honda would quite probably have walked away with only minor injuries.
The next challenge has been to develop technology that helps prevent having an accident in the first place, which is obviously a much more desirable result for everyone. Electronic stability control (ESC) systems were first recognised by Euro NCAP in 2009, years before fitment of such technology became compulsory.
The latest must-have technology for accident avoidance is autonomous emergency braking (AEB), where the car will automatically apply the brakes if it detects that an accident is imminent and the driver has failed to act.
From 2018, cars will not be able to score a five-star rating from Euro NCAP unless they have AEB fitted as standard. Thatcham Research has made the point that manufacturers are choosing to fit such systems to new models when they are launched, but not updating existing models with similar technology at the same time. For example, the new Alfa Romeo Giulia and Stelvio both have AEB fitted as standard, but the Giulietta (launched 2010) and Mito (launched 2008) have not been upgraded to include AEB. Likewise, the new DS 7 Crossback launched this year gets AEB while the existing DS 3, DS 4 and DS 5 models don’t.
Michiel van Ratingen says that car buyers should do their research before heading into showrooms: “We would urge consumers to check for the latest ratings and to choose cars with the most up-to-date five-star ratings, many examples of which we have seen in 2017.”