Latin America's top selling cars not safe enough says Latin NCAP

Poor structural integrity and absence of airbags put Latin American motorists at risk

Sao Paulo, Brazil: 24th November 2011 - The first ever consumer crash test programme of some of the top selling cars in Latin America has shown high risk of life threatening injuries.  The frontal impact tests carried out at 64kph reveal that poor structural integrity and the absence of airbags are putting the lives of Latin American motorists at risk, according to results from the latest phase of testing published today (24).

The vehicles tested by the Latin New Car Assessment Programme (Latin NCAP) show that today’s best selling cars in Latin America are providing levels of safety twenty years behind the ‘five star’ standards now common in Europe and North America. Unfortunately in Latin America ‘one star’ cars still dominate the market.

Models newly tested in the second phase are (*see Results): Chevrolet Celta, Chevrolet Corsa Classic, Chevrolet Cruze LT, Fiat Novo Uno Evo, Ford Focus Hatchback, Ford KA Fly Viral, Nissan March, and Nissan Tiida Hatchback. 

Latin NCAP is urging governments, manufacturers, and consumers across Latin America to give much higher priority to car safety. In particular, Latin NCAP strongly advises all new car buyers to only choose vehicles equipped with an airbag. Latin NCAP also recommends that governments across the region make it a mandatory requirement for all passenger cars to be able to pass the UN’s most important international safety standards and encourages manufacturers to take the same initiative on a voluntary basis. 

Some models tested by Latin NCAP have shown that higher levels of vehicle safety can be achieved, and that car manufacturers are responding positively to the programme.  The tests also highlight the importance of using child seats.

The Latin NCAP tests have been carried out in two phases since 2010. Overall, the Programme has now tested seven out of the top ten best selling cars in the region. The cars selected for testing have been the most basic and most popular versions of the model available (without airbags as standard). This partly explains the disappointing set of ‘one star’ results.


Airbags reduce risk of fatal and serious injury

The benefits of airbags are clearly shown by the Latin NCAP results in both phase one and two. In co-operation with the manufactures, the Programme was able test an additional vehicle equipped with an airbag alongside the basic version chosen without an airbag. The back to back comparisons show that cars fitted with airbags can achieve three stars and offer significantly reduced risk of fatal and serious injuries. 

Airbags work as a safety cushion that automatically protects vehicle occupants in a crash. They are a supplementary restraint system intended to be used in conjunction with a seat belt and not as alternative. The first car equipped with an airbag was the Oldsmobile Toronado in 1973. In the US Ford made them standard in1990. Volvo introduced the first side impact system in 1995. Major car manufacturers commonly install airbags to those models that have to pass the UN vehicle crash test standards for front and side impact. Typically an airbag unit production cost is less than $50. 

In Latin America, where the UN regulatory standards are absent, the manufacturers still regard airbags as optional rather than a standard safety requirement. Fortunately in Argentina and Brazil legislation has recently been passed that will require the mandatory use of airbags by 2014.


Body shell integrity needs to be improved

Fitting airbags, although very important, is not enough. The Latin NCAP tests show weaknesses in the structural performance of some of the region’s most popular cars. Body shell integrity is critical to protect passengers from being injured even if an airbag is fitted. Car manufacturers have developed ‘crumple zone’ systems which enable car occupants to be protected in a survival space as other parts of the vehicle absorb the energy loads unleashed in a crash. A stable body shell can also help to extract passengers in need of post-crash rescue and care. It is, therefore, disappointing that the Latin NCAP tests reveal a number of models with body shells that fail to remain stable. This failing would be less likely to occur in models that meet the UN frontal impact test standard.

In both phases of the Latin NCAP some vehicles have been tested that achieve much better levels of safety, similar to the performance achieved in North America and Europe. These are more expensive models but in Europe even the least expensive cars are nowadays equipped with airbags, (driver, passenger, side and curtain) offer better structural safety and a raft of other important safety features. This shows that the major vehicle manufacturers all know exactly how to make affordable vehicles that meet the crash test standards of the UN. That is why Latin NCAP strongly recommends applying these standards in all the countries of Latin America.


UN Decade of Action 2011-2020

This is especially important now that the UN has declared a Decade of Action for Road Safety with the aim to cut by 50% the forecast level of road deaths by 2020.  The Global Plan for the Decade recommends that UN Member States apply global crash test standards and supports the creation of regional new car assessment programmes such as Latin NCAP.

According to the World Health Organization, the Latin America and Caribbean region has the highest per capita rate of road traffic fatalities in the world. In 2000 Latin America and the Caribbean had a road traffic fatality rate of 26.1/100,000 population. This is forecast to rise to 31.0/100,000 by 2020 - still by far the worst rate in the world and more than three times that predicted for high income countries. Levels of protection for car occupants in across the region are too low. In Argentina for example, 42% of road crash deaths are car drivers or passengers.


Child restraint systems vital to protect young lives

The Latin NCAP tests also show the importance of using child restraint systems (CRS). In the frontal impact barrier tests, dummies representing 1½ and 3 year old children are placed in the rear of the car in the type of child restraint, recommended by the car manufacturer. The score depends on the child seat dynamic performance in front impact tests but also on the fitting instructions for the child restraints, airbag warning labels, and the car’s ability to accommodate the child restraints safely. The latter is very important as experience shows that, even if parents use a child seat, without proper instructions on the seat and car the chances are high that the seat will be incorrectly used. 

Latin NCAP publishes a separate star rating for child protection. To achieve a high child occupant score requires a good test performance of both the car and the CRS combined. This combination could earn up to five stars for child protection. The Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cruze scored 3 stars in Child occupant protection, the highest score from phase 1 and 2 of Latin NCAP.

Many child restraints users fail to attach the child restraint securely to the car and this will compromise the protection afforded to the child. The ISOFIX system provides a much more secure method of attaching the child restraint to the car. The Chevrolet Cruze is the first car to be tested with an ISOFIX CRS in Latin NCAP. It showed good results. Latin NCAP recommends that all governments in the region should allow and promote ISOFIX use according to the relevant UN standards.

Latin NCAP believes that cars manufacturers are responsible for both adult and child occupants. The tests have shown that there is significant room for improvement. Some car manufacturers have recommended child restraints to be used in their cars that do not fit well to the vehicle due to seatbelt geometry in most cases, insufficient installation instructions, and gave poor dynamic performance.

The Latin NCAP test results highlight the importance of co-operation between all stakeholders. Governments should mandate CRS use and adopt the relevant United Nations regulations. Child seat manufacturers must bring better products on the market for affordable prices.  Car makers must take full responsibility for child safety and make sure that all occupants are equally well protected, whether it is an adult or a child. Above all, parents must understand the importance of protecting their children in cars, use child seats and make sure these are correctly installed.

Latin NCAP tests demonstrate the great potential that exists to improve levels of occupant safety of new cars across Latin America. At present too many of the region’s top selling cars provide a safety performance that fails to meet the minimum standards of UN vehicle regulations. The ‘one star’ car market that now prevails in Latin America is performing well below the capabilities of the automotive industry. Latin NCAP believes that consumers in Latin America deserve better than this and look forward to a Decade of Action that will transform the safety of vehicles on the region’s roads.

Note to Editors:

About Latin NCAP 

Latin NCAP is a joint initiative of the Federation Internationale de I’Automobile (FIA), the FIA Foundation, the Global New Car Assessment Programme (GNCAP), the Fundación Gonzalo Rodriguez, the Inter-American Development Bank and International Consumer Research & Testing (ICRT). It aims to:

  • provide consumers across the Latin American & Caribbean region with independent and impartial safety assessment of new cars;
  • encourage manufacturers to improve the safety performance of the vehicles they offer for sale in the Latin American & Caribbean region;
  • encourage governments across the Latin American & Caribbean region to apply UN vehicle crash test regulations to passenger cars.

The United Nation’s World Forum for Harmonisation of Vehicle Regulations develops passenger car safety regulations that are widely applied across the world (see: The most important crash test regulations are for front and side impact (regulations 94 and 98) – see Explanatory Note below.

Vehicle safety in the UN Decade of Action: The Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety – Pillar Three: Recommended Activities 1, 2, & 3 – page 15. This covers global crash test standards and supports the creation of regional new car assessment programmes such as Latin NCAP, Download at:

Photos and videos of the Latin NCAP crash tests will be available at

Models tested in phase 1 were: Chevrolet Meriva GL plus, FIAT Palio ELX, Geely CK1, Peugeot 207 Compact, Toyota Corolla XEI, VW Gol Trend.

Explanatory Note: Frontal Impact Test Procedure

The Latin NCAP tests use a frontal crash test based on the United Nations regulation 94. The procedure requires the test vehicle to impact into a deformable barrier across 40% of the car’s front which represents a crash with a car of equivalent size and weight. The test speed used is 64kph. This is 8 kph higher than the UN regulation so as to cover the crash severity that leads to most deaths and serious injuries.

The car is fitted with 4 passengers (dummies): 2 adults in the front and 2 child passengers in the rear in child seats, one of 3 years old and the other 1.5 years old. Each dummy contains a number of sensors that measure the forces, moments and accelerations on critical body regions such as head, neck, chest, abdomen and pelvis. The lower these values the lower is the risk at injury and the safer the car. The car is chosen randomly at a dealer as any consumer would do. The car is subsequently transported to the laboratory for testing. The manufacturer is notified that the car is in the programme and asked to verify testing setup and recommend the child seats. The manufacturer is invited to witness the test and its preparation. After the car is tested the car is measured and inspected. A crash and inspection report is prepared and sent to the manufacturer who is invited to a meeting to discuss the results prior to publication by Latin NCAP.

The 64 kph offset deformable crash test is the most common frontal impact test used by NCAP programmes around the world. Other NCAPs also perform lateral impact, pole impact, pedestrian testing and whiplash testing (rear impact). Latin NCAP hopes eventually to extend its assessment work to include these additional test procedures.

Diagram illustrating the Offset Deformable Front Impact Test

*Results, this includes phase 1 and 2:

*The Nissan March is a new car for the Brazilian market and the manufacturer wanted to sponsor it to show its safety. Please note that the Nissan march comes with airbags as standard for the Brazilian market and as such these results are to be taken as relevant for the Brazilian market alone.