WATCH | Clash of the bakkies: SA Nissan Hardbody crumples, five-year-old Euro counterpart doesn't

'Demonstrates complete disdain for African vehicle consumers and their safety at the expense of profit'

18 February 2020 - 12:30

It’s literally a matter of life and death.

The South African-made Nissan NP300 bakkie may be marketed as “African tough”, but a crash test proves its safety performance is vastly inferior to that of a five-year-old European version of the vehicle.

Renowned car-safety organisation Global NCAP (New Car Assessment Programme) has in recent years been calling out motor manufacturers on their double-standards when it comes to car safety levels — excellent in most countries, but terrible in SA — and now it has conducted a crash test to prove it.

In the first crash test of its kind, the London-based organisation crashed a new South African-built Nissan NP300 Hardbody into a five-year-old Nissan NP300, with 75,000km on the clock and bought in Scotland. The test took place at a facility outside Munich, Germany, in November 2019.

The 2015 European car is equipped with the life-saving crash-avoidance anti-skid system, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), but the new African version is not.

When the flying debris of the two wrecks had settled after their 56km/h collision, and the crash test dummies’ data was analysed, Global NCAP’s engineers concluded the driver in the Nissan built at the manufacturer's Pretoria plant for African markets would most likely have sustained fatal injuries. The driver of the equivalent second-hand European model would probably have walked away from the crash.

Launched to coincide with this week’s Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety in Sweden, both crashed vehicles will be on public display as part of the “People’s Exhibition” in Stockholm Central Railway Station, opposite the conference venue.

“This is a very dramatic car-to-car crash test, which uniquely illustrates the double-standard in vehicle safety performance between models sold in Europe and those sold in Africa,” said David Ward, CEO and president of Global NCAP.

“The difference in crashworthiness is extraordinary.”

Global NCAP is partnering the Global NGO Alliance for Road Safety in hosting the exhibition.

“A new car in Africa is not necessarily a safer car,” Ward said.

“Second-hand imported cars from regions with tougher regulatory requirements for safety and environmental performance can offer consumers much greater protection.”

Never one to mince his words, Ward said the double-standard demonstrated by Nissan with its NP300 “is utterly unacceptable”.

In a statement, Nissan SA said: “Nissan’s number one priority is the safety of its customers. We are committed to the highest safety standards in every single market where we operate, without exception.

"The locally produced NP300 Hardbody meets all safety regulations within Africa, where it has built a strong reputation over many years for reliability and customer satisfaction. Nissan continues to  introduce advanced safety technologies and features into our global product range, including Africa, and we actively encourage and support advancements in safety regulations and requirements for the benefit of our customers."

This is not the first time Global NCAP has bought a new NP300 in SA and sent it to the Munich testing facility to crash test it.

In 2018, as part of the organisation’s #SaferCarsForAfrica campaign. with partner the Automobile Association of South Africa (AA), the bakkie was crashed into a barrier, receiving a zero-star safety rating for the front passengers.

The vehicle structure collapsed and was found to be unstable.

In contrast, when the European Nissan Navara NP300 was tested by Euro NCAP in 2015, it achieved a four-star rating for adult passengers in front.

Interviewed shortly after the bakkie-on-bakkie crash, Global NCAP’s secretary-general, Alejandro Furas, said: “If you take a look at the new [South African] NP300 vehicle's body, it’s completely collapsed and the steering wheel is compressing the driver.

“It would be very hard for rescuers to get the driver out of the car. It’s being sold as a hardbody, with airbags, giving consumers the impression that it is a robust, safe car, but from what we can see now [after the crash test], it doesn't look like it.”

The double-standards issue is not confined to Nissan, according to Global NCAP.

Speaking in November 2018 at a joint Global NCAP/AA press conference to reveal the safety ratings of four South African vehicles which were crash tested in a Munich facility a few months earlier, Furas said most motor manufacturers deliberately chose to under-spec some of their models in terms of safety features in African and other “developing” markets.

Responding at the time, Nissan South Africa said: “The safety of our customers is Nissan’s top priority. All our cars meet or exceed regulations in all countries in which they are sold.”

The manufacturer appeared unfazed by Global NCAP’s damning comments about its use of the word “hardbody” and its claim that the bakkie is “African tough”, saying the bakkie was “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,” the manufacturer said.

“Nissan is studying further enhancements.”

Willem Groenewald, CEO of the AA, said: “These results are extremely worrying and point to a major deficiency in the quality of vehicles available in Africa. We have for a long time been concerned that vehicles available in Africa are inferior to those in other markets, such as Europe and Asia, and these results seem to confirm that concern.

“What this car-to-car crash also demonstrates is a complete disdain for African vehicle consumers and their safety at the expense of profit.

“It also again highlights the need for stricter regulation of standards and tougher controls in terms of allowing these inferior vehicles on to African roads.”