The startling difference in vehicle safety standards in the US and Mexico

Posted on 23 Nov 2016 by Tim Brown

Campaign sees Nissan remove zero star Tsuru from production

A campaign by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the Global New Car Assessment Program (GNCAP) has revealed the shocking difference in vehicle safety standards between the US and Mexico.

In a vehicle safety video released by the IIHS and GNCAP, two Nissan vehicles, both manufactured in Mexico, were subjected to a head-on crash test at 35 mph (56 km/h). The difference between the vehicles is that the red car is a 2015 Tsuru, manufactured for sale in Mexico. The silver car is a 2016 Versa, made for the US market.

They are both entry level vehicles in their respective countries although, at around $9,000, the Tsuru is about $3,000 cheaper than the bottom of the range Versa, which starts from $12,815.

However, it isn’t the price difference that is concerning, it is the disparity in the safety of the vehicles in the event of a collision.

Unlike the American Nissan, the Mexican model, which is commonly used by taxi drivers, has no air bags, no antilock brakes or stability control to adjust tire speed and prevent skidding. In crash safety tests run by the nonprofit Latin New Car Assessment Program, the Versa received four out of five stars. The Tsuru received zero.

In the head to head collision test between the two vehicles, as shown in the video, the difference is obvious.

Nissan has taken the zero star safety rated Tsuru out of production following an NCAP campaign - image courtesy of NCAP
Nissan has taken the zero star safety rated Tsuru out of production following an NCAP campaign – image courtesy of NCAP

The Tsuru is crumpled and the crash test dummy’s face collides with the steering wheel as glass flies everywhere. The entire front of the vehicle cabin collapses in and pushes the dummy’s knees up and crushes them against the dashboard. A driver in the Tsuru would have had high probability of suffering life-threatening injuries as the main structures all failed, fatally compromising the survival space.

By comparison, while the front of the silver car is also crushed, the frame of the car remains relatively intact. This dummy flies forward in the seat belt, but front and side airbags soften the blow. The windshield cracks, but doesn’t shatter.

Nissan isn’t the only carmaker with different vehicle safety options for different markets. Hyundai, Nissan, Renault, Suzuki, Datsun, Ford, Fiat, Kia, Volkswagen and others have all sold zero-star cars in middle- and low-income countries around the world. A 2017 Chevrolet Spark sold in the US comes with 10 airbags. The same version sold in Mexico doesn’t come with any airbags, and like the Tsuru, it also scored zero stars in crash tests.

Many of the vehicles in question lack basic vehicle safety features that have been mandatory in the US and European Union for almost two decades.

“How can a manufacturer justify selling a vehicle in low-income countries that they know would be illegal in high-income countries?” asked David Ward, secretary-general of Global NCAP.

According to Alejandro Furas, the secretary-general of Latin NCAP, it may only cost a manufacturer $50 for each airbag added to a vehicle. However, the car companies often include airbags as a part of a ‘luxury’ package that might also include leather seats or better stereo speakers. So, for instance, if a Mexican consumer wishes to purchase a Chevrolet Spark with airbags, they need to pay an additional $2,000 for the deluxe LTZ model, which comes with two airbags, one for the driver and one for the passenger.

Signs of change for vehicle safety

Mexico has recently introduced new vehicle safety standards, which are due to come into force in 2020, in an effort to curb the sale of unsafe vehicles.

Some manufacturers are already taking steps to improve their made-for Mexico cars. The same day Latin NCAP announced their intention to crash-test the Tsuru, Nissan announced that it would stop selling the cars in May of 2017.

Reacting to the announcement David Ward, Global NCAP Secretary General said: “This is a long overdue decision to cease production of a car that is fundamentally unsafe. Three years ago our partner Latin NCAP crash tested the car and revealed its Zero Star rating. It has taken Nissan too long to recognise that selling sub-standard cars is unacceptable. At last they have responded to the demands of Latin NCAP and Mexican consumers to withdraw the Tsuru from the market.

“Our first ever Car to Car test clearly shows the importance of minimum crash test regulations. Mexico doesn’t yet apply them and the US has had them for decades. The lack of standards can result in the sale of unsafe cars like the Nissan Tsuru. Across Latin America all countries should apply UN or equivalent safety standards to all new passenger cars, so that there is no future for Zero Star Cars.”