16 Apr 2013
ASEAN NCAP: consumer awareness of safety in southeast Asia keeps building

Efforts to encourage car makers to offer better safety to consumers in emerging markets are gathering momentum. The launch of a new independent crash testing group in South East Asia is giving car buyers the chance to check whether the models on sale really deliver the safety advertised. The industry is already rushing to respond.

Vehicle ownership is growing fast in emerging markets, but lax legal safety standards have so far made it easy for manufacturers to market cars that offer little protection in the event of an accident. Even so, some models are advertised as offering the same safety as their European counterparts.

Having just launched its first phase of results in January 2013, ASEAN NCAP is one of a new generation of new car assessment programmes to start crash testing cars for consumers. A similar programme is underway in Latin America, highlighting the lack of basic equipment in some of the region’s most profitable cars.

With a population of around 600 million, the Southeast Asia ASEAN region is roughly three quarters the size of Europe. Vehicle ownership is growing strongly in the vibrant economies of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, but the cost to society is increasing.

Malaysia is one of the better places to be a road-user. It has a relatively small population of 27 million people with around 7,000 people killed on the roads each year, the majority being motorcyclists. The country also benefits from some legal safety standards for the cars that sell there.

The rest of the region is less fortunate. Around 30,000 people a year die in road accidents in Indonesia, a country still without even basic seat belt laws.

ASEAN NCAP wants to give family-focused Asian consumers better information before they buy – and to encourage carmakers to take more care with their customers’ safety. The organisation has begun by focusing attention on the vehicles in the key markets of Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

The hope is that, just as in Europe and the US, when consumers have access to safety information, carmakers take it more seriously.

Car Safety Rules spoke to ASEAN NCAP’s secretary general, Khairil Anwar Abu Kassim, about the organisation’s mission.

How much influence can independent crash tests have on consumers?

NCAP crash test results have been becoming more influential in southeast Asia in recent years. Manufacturers have been using Euro NCAP and Japan NCAP results in their advertising in markets such as Malaysia. However, it’s not always clear how similar the vehicles sold really are in terms of safety equipment.

Our crash test results are still a new thing here, but they are already starting to influence consumers. We’re optimistic that having independent local crash test results will come to be more and more influential in people’s purchase decisions in future.

How have carmakers responded to ASEAN NCAP’s first phase of crash test results?

The reaction from industry has been excellent. For a new regulation to be implemented, the car industry usually asks for two years to adapt new models and four years for existing models. We’ve managed to drive the industry to make improvements to safety far faster – within six months in some cases.

After Proton received a one-star rating for its single-airbag Saga FLX compact car, they stopped production immediately, replacing it with the FLX+ model which has dual airbags.

So what is it that consumers in southeast Asia are missing out on?

We need a concerted effort to increase the number of vehicles equipped with anti-lock brakes (ABS) and electronic stability control (ESC). These basic safety systems are really needed.

How will you develop ASEAN NCAP’s testing in the next few years?

We will introduce a side impact test, making it a pre-requisite for a four or five-star rating. We also hope to encourage carmakers to make ABS standard and ESC available as a less expensive option for consumers.

How are consumers responding to ASEAN NCAP so far?

We still need to increase ASEAN NCAP’s profile so that we are more visible and relevant for consumers. We are receiving a lot of online coverage in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. By continuing our efforts, we hope that awareness will grow and safer choices will become more widely available in these countries.