Some of South Africa's most popular cars are too unsafe for other markets

07 November 2017 - 10:43 By Wendy Knowler
Vehicles line up to catch the customer’s eye at a car dealership. File photo
Vehicles line up to catch the customer’s eye at a car dealership. File photo

Some of South Africa’s biggest-selling cars are considered too unsafe to be sold in the United States‚ European Union countries‚ Australia or New Zealand.

That’s because they don’t have electronic stability control – a computerised technology that improves a vehicle's stability by detecting and countering skidding – which has been a legal requirement for new passenger cars in those countries for several years.

Shockingly‚ several of South Africa’s cheapest cars don’t even have anti-lock brakes or airbags.

Yet despite the country having one of the highest car-accident fatality rates in the world – 14‚071 people were killed on our roads last year – cars that don’t tick all the safety boxes are justified as being "an affordable alternative to public transport".

The Automobile Association of South Africa (AA) recently released its second annual Entry-Level Car Safety Report‚ and with it the bombshell news that of the 25 cars selling for R160‚000 or less‚ only two are considered to have acceptable safety: the Toyota Aygo 1.0 and the Nissan Micra 1.2 Visia+.

And of those sub-R160 000 cars‚ only the Micra has stability control.

The cars were awarded points for the number of active safety features they have – for example‚ anti-lock braking systems and electronic stability control – as well as passive safety features‚ such as airbags.

Ten were rated as having poor safety: the Renault Kwid 1.0 Expression‚ Datsun Go+ 1.2 Lux‚ Kia Picanto 1.2 Start‚ Kia Picanto 1.0 Start‚ Datsun Go 1.2 Mid (no airbags)‚ Hyundai i10 1.1 Motion‚ Chery QQ3 0.8 TE‚ Tata Indica 1.4 LGi (no airbags)‚ Tata Vista 1.4 Ini Bounce (no airbags)‚ and Tata Manza 1.4.

The airbag-free Datsun Go 1.2 Mid has been discontinued‚ and the new Go‚ at a starting price of R129‚000‚ now has a driver’s-side airbag standard across the range.

But that leaves thousands of Gos on the roads without airbags‚ given the model’s impressive sales figures – in September‚ 750 Datsun Gos were sold‚ with 701 in August and 782 in July.

By the end of September‚ 16‚451 Gos had been sold in South Africa‚ with sales up 86% on last year.

The Renault Kwid ‚ starting at R127‚000‚ is also selling extremely well – more than 700 a month – despite its relatively poor safety.

In the case of the Go‚ the addition of an airbag doesn’t solve the car’s structural problems‚ according to Max Mosley‚ chairman of the UK-based Global New Car Assessment Programme.

“The vehicle structure collapsed during the (crash) test‚ and the high forces placed on the dummies pose a grave risk of death or serious injury‚” Mosley said three years ago‚ about the time the Go went on sale in South Africa. “The Go’s body shell is so unstable that it would be pointless to include airbags in the car.”

He urged Nissan (which owns the Datsun brand) to withdraw the Go from sale in South Africa and other markets‚ including India‚ “pending a re-design of the car’s body shell to make it worthwhile to fit airbags”.

Asked last month if that body shell had since been re-designed‚ Des Fenner‚ Datsun SA’s general manager‚ said “the structural integrity” of the body had been “strengthened”‚ but failed to elaborate.

Instead‚ he focused on price above safety concerns‚ saying: “The Datsun Go has brought independence from public transport to many and provided them with the personal mobility that has enabled them to find and access new opportunities within the economy.”

The attitude is hardly unique. Unfortunately‚ says the AA‚ “price is main driving factor in people’s decisions to buy vehicles”.

“We would like to see more people considering other elements of the vehicles they intend buying‚ such as safety features‚ which can mean the difference between life and death.”