Mumbai: At least one car manufacturer, Fiat India, has begun talking about the safety features of its cars in a need to create a brand positioning. |
Fiat India has been stressing on its cars' adherence to stringent European safety standards, its crash-tested cabins which minimise damage to occupants in case of collisions and other safety features like crumple zones, side-impact beams for maximum passenger and driver safety.
Other options Fiat India offers are a fire-prevention system that cuts off fuel supply to prevent fires during an accident, an anti-lock braking system (ABS) with electronic brake distribution (EBD) and driver-side airbags.
Fiat India's stress on safety may be dismissed by many in India, a country where the low cost of ownership factor assumes greater importance in car purchase decisions. But the company, in an urgent need to create its own brand positioning, has highlighted a much-needed aspect in cars available here, which is neglected by other carmakers in the country.
Carmakers in India tend to focus on the pick-up, power capabilities and fuel consumption of their cars, almost neglecting safety features, which is not surprising considering that safety as an aspect is neglected in every facet of our life.
Every seven minutes one person dies in an accident on Indian roads. Every two minutes someone is seriously injured in India. Apart from human and social loss, economic loss incurred from accidents amounts to Rs 5,000 crore per year in India. National highways account for 25 per cent of all accidents and a shocking 34 per cent of fatalities.
According to a recent report in The Times of India, India recorded 2,24,107 road accidents in 2002, the highest in the world with a death toll of 60,000. And 70 per cent of the accidents occurred because of poor roads and bad driving.
Detractors may argue that a large number of accidents on Indian roads are not due to unsafe cars but due to bad road conditions. While this may be true to some extent it is also true that a huge number of fatalities during accidents would be mitigated by cars that protect occupants instead of turning into death traps.
It is also true that Indian roads don't encourage speed, but the future is most likely to be somewhat different.
Mega projects like the Golden Quadrilateral, connecting the major metros and North-South and East-west corridors, thus linking all the four regions of the country, which are on schedule and on their way to completion by 2007, are likely to change the concept of long-distance travel in India dramatically. The number of cars travelling long distance is likely to rise exponentially, as also accidents, since the freeways would encourage speeding.
The Mumbai-Pune Expressway has, in a way, given a taste of things to come. The Mumbai-Pune road was, from time immemorial, plagued by a huge number of fatal accidents due to the tortuous nature of the road. The 94-km-long Mumbai-Pune Expressway, commissioned in 2000, was built to enable faster connectivity between the two and also to provide a safer road.
The Expressway has no entry points and is now the fastest road in India. With its coming it was expected that accidents on the route would diminish considerably. Fatalities have certainly gone down, but not to the expected extent. In 2001 the Expressway recorded 270 accidents, 71 of them life-claiming. According to Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), the majority of accidents were due to tyre blowouts.
Tyre blowouts normally occur when cars travel at very high speeds in excess of 120 kms on tyres not built to withstand high speed. Blowouts cause the vehicle to veer off-course violently, resulting in major collisions.
While tubeless tyres are advocated to avoid blowouts, Indian car owners also need to become more aware of safety aspects of the cars they own. Consumers in India tend to associate safety more with car burglar alarms and steering locking systems, which minimise theft, than features that may save their lives in case of a bad accident.
In the aftermath of a collision cars with full fuel tanks tend to go up in flames killing the occupants who might have survived the collision. In a number of accidents the steering wheel tends to pin the victim to his seat while the car goes up in flames.
During the monsoon season roads tend to become death traps. Cars tend to skid badly and go out of control. An ABS braking system works better at such times. No doubt seat belts are good for safety but are not sufficient as we get faster cars and better roads to drive on.
To take a few instances, all cars in Europe, big or small, are required to be equipped with airbags while medium-sized cars have to have ABS brakes while a collapsible steering wheel is also a buyer's option. In India these options are not on offer by Indian or multinational carmakers for small- and mid-size cars.
Only luxury cars coming with fancy price tags are equipped with safety features such as outlined above.
Consider these facts
Maruti Udyog has been exporting its Alto model to the Netherlands in Europe. The exported model is equipped with airbags while the model sold in India isn't.
General Motors' models - Corsa and Astra - are popular cars in Europe. The Corsa sold in Europe comes with an option of a collapsible steering wheel while there is no such option available in India.
While those who purchase cars like the Ford Ikon and the General Motors Corsa can have some assurance that these cars have been put through crash tests in their country of origin, buyers of the Mahindra Scorpio, the Tata Indica or the Indigo don't have any such assurance. None of the latter vehicles have gone through crash tests for the reason that such tests are not done in India since there are no facilities for conducting such tests.
This isn't a blame game either.
Multinational companies are guided by the mantra of customer satisfaction. They give what customers demand. Indian consumers have to realise that safety features are important in cars and then demand them.