The latest crash test results released by Latin Ncap this week reveal that the safety levels of some popular cars sold across Latin America are still 20 years behind the industrialised countries and below global standards.
The Australasian New Car Assessment Programme (Ancap) noted the increase in safety over the range of vehicles tested by collegiate programme Latin Ncap, but expressed alarm about extremely poor ratings for two vehicles and concern about another that also achieved a poor rating.
The Renault Sandero and Chinese-made JAC J3 were the worst performers of the eight cars tested in Phase III of Latin Ncap crash testing - both with a one-star safety rating.
The Volkswagen Clasico (Bora) also scored poorly with a three-star safety rating. Progress has been made, however, with several Latin American-sold models achieving four-star safety ratings. These include the Volkswagen Polo, Renault Fluence, Honda City, Toyota Etios and Ford Fiesta.
"In Latin American countries there is no government regulation of vehicle standards and manufacturers are taking advantage of this, selling cars with minimal, if not any, safety features whatsoever," said Ancap chairman Lauchlan McIntosh.
Several vehicles tested by Latin Ncap have demonstrated major structural differences when compared to the same model produced for a different market.
McIntosh added: "The majority of the results released by Latin Ncap to date are of great concern. Almost 40 per cent of the cars they've tested have scored a safety rating of one star or even poorer. This is sure to raise a red flag with consumers and should serve as a warning to all manufacturers that substandard levels of construction and lack of vital safety features will not be accepted by new-car buyers.
"In Australia, the Renault Laguna was the first car to achieve the maximum five-star Ancap safety rating back in 2001, so this one-star result for the Renault Sandero sold to markets such as Latin America is difficult to accept. Manufacturers talk often of a 'world car' without guaranteeing world-class safety."
The influence of Latin Ncap, a non-regulatory, consumer-driven programme established in 2010, is beginning to take effect with Ford and Volkswagen confirming airbags for the driver and front passenger will now be a standard fitment in the Fiesta and Clasico (Bora) models for all Latin NCAP markets.
"We are only now starting to see the fitment of airbags in models sold to the Latin American and Caribbean market - over 20 years after they were introduced in Australia. This is a step in the right direction but I want to emphasise that the fitting of airbags in cars which lack structural integrity is not an effective safety measure," said McIntosh.
Latin America is a rapidly growing vehicle market and source of production. It also has the world's highest per capita fatality rate from road crashes - 26 per 100,000 people, likely to rise further to over 30 per 100,000 by 2020.
In Australia the number of road crash deaths per 100,000 population reached such a peak of 30 in 1970 and has decreased to 5.9 today. Research has shown that safer cars have made a major contribution to this reduction.