The Nissan NP300 Hardbody ‘collapsed’ in the standard impact test leading to a zero star rating.
The Nissan NP300 Hardbody ‘collapsed’ in the standard impact test leading to a zero star rating.

In 2017, vehicle safety organisation Global NCAP and the Automobile Association of SA (AA SA) teamed up to test a number of entry-level vehicles on sale in the South African market.

Some of the results were shocking, although to many not surprising in a country that has outdated vehicle safety standards and an apparent lack of consumer demand for it.

Recently the organisations teamed up again and we were there to witness the live crash tests of two of the four vehicles tested: the Hyundai i20 and Toyota Yaris. The other two vehicles tested were the Kia Picanto and Nissan NP300 Hardbody.

It is the latter which raises the most questions. The popular NP300 Hardbody received a zero star rating and just two stars for child occupant protection in the frontal offset collision test at 64km/h. According to the test results "the vehicle structure collapsed during the crash test and it was rated as unstable". Take a look at the picture, it tells it all.

"It is astonishing that a global company like Nissan can produce a car today as poorly engineered as this," says David Ward, secretary general of Global NCAP.

"The NP300 Hardbody is ridiculously misnamed as its body shell has collapsed. Nissan also claim the car benefits from a so-called ‘safety shield’ but this is grossly misleading. Our test shows that the occupant compartment completely fails to absorb the energy of the crash resulting in a high risk of fatality or injury," he says.

The result should ring alarm bells for consumers and also for Nissan, which has already been heavily criticised for selling the Datsun Go in SA and the Renault-Nissan Alliance vehicle, the Renault Kwid, both of which fail to meet most global safety standards. It also comes at a time when Nissan SA is aiming to expand LCV production numbers in Africa.

The results of the latest Global NCAP crash tests on vehicles sold in SA provide some alarming results.
The results of the latest Global NCAP crash tests on vehicles sold in SA provide some alarming results.

Top priority

In response, Nissan SA’s corporate affairs director, Wonga Mesatywa, told us: "The safety of our customers is Nissan’s top priority. All of our cars meet or exceed regulations in all countries in which they are sold.

"The Nissan NP300 is a tried and trusted partner for businesses and entrepreneurs, providing reliability and affordability. Continuous improvements are being made to the NP300 such as dual airbags and ABS brakes which are fitted as standard equipment. Nissan is studying further enhancements."

The NP300 is not a new model, and while the zero score for adult occupant protection is unjustifiable, the result of the crash test of the Hyundai i20 also raises questions. Last month, Hyundai sold 655 i20 models in SA but while its three star adult occupant crash test result will be deemed acceptable, it is the question of whether Hyundai is using different metal in its body shells for the model in SA compared to those in Europe that is concerning.

The vehicle received a four-star safety rating on a much stricter scale with Euro NCAP.

According to Alejandro Furas, technical director of Global NCAP, there is a clear difference in the materials used in the vehicle sold in Europe and the vehicle sold in SA. That raises serious concerns about whether Hyundai is putting profit ahead of the safety of consumers in SA and in Africa.

We approached Hyundai both in SA and internationally for comment but none was forthcoming by the time we went to print.

Hyundai’s sister company Kia received a three-star rating for its small Picanto, which was also the only vehicle tested that had a bodyshell described as "stable" in the crash test.

A rival to the i20, the latest generation Toyota Yaris was also tested and it too scored three stars for adult occupant safety. It also received a report stating that "the vehicle structure was rated as unstable and offered marginal to good general adult occupant protection". However it scored marginally higher than the Hyundai and provided a better level of rear seat child protection for children secured in the vehicle correctly.

Toyota SA gave us the following statement: "The Yaris that is currently sold in SA is built in Thailand according to the same exacting standards demanded of all Toyota motor vehicles around the world. Toyota confirms that this particular model scored five stars in the Asean NCAP (New Car Assessment Programme for Southeast Asian Countries) crash test which was conducted in May 2017."

The company did state that safety standards do differ depending on the demands of certain markets: "The Euro NCAP, for example, is located in a relatively wealthier part of the world. As such, it needs to introduce stricter requirements, to set the bar for a five-star rating sufficiently high. Conversely, it is unrealistic to expect Asean NCAP or Latin NCAP, which are from developing markets, or even small markets like Australia and New Zealand (ANCAP) to adopt a similarly tough stance as Euro NCAP as doing so will only defeat the purpose of making safer cars accessible to all."

This difference in market demands is something Furas also acknowledges when it comes to the testing standards: "If we applied Euro standards to South African cars then probably most cars would be zero cars," he told us. But the aim is to establish a safety programme for SA and Africa and to do so, manufacturers and industry organisations, as well as government, need to take vehicle safety more seriously.

"Manufacturers will not chase European standards because they know they will not pass. They will chase the five-star standard for SA."

With more than 14,000 people dying every year on SA’s roads, should safety only be for other countries?