Bharat NCAP crash safety regime for new cars kicks off in India
The voluntary vehicle crash safety protocols which are based on the latest Global New Car Assessment Programme standards, aim to enhance vehicle crashworthiness and consumer awareness in India.
The Bharat New Car Assessment Programme or BNCAP safety regime has come into effect in India starting today – October 1, 2023. The voluntary safety standard was launched on August 22, 2023, by the Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) – Nitin Gadkari - at a mega event in New Delhi.
The new voluntary crash testing regime aims to award star ratings to cars based on their performance in crash testing, for which the standards have been taken from the Global New Car Assessment Programme (Global NCAP), which is a UK-based safety watchdog, and has taken a pioneering effort in elevating vehicle safety in India with its ‘Safer Cars for India’ programme, first initiated in 2013.
What started with the crash testing of the Tata Nano in 2013, so far Global NCAP has cumulatively tested 50 made-in-India cars for their crash worthiness and sparked a debate around the need to elevate vehicle safety, which, over the years, has gained tremendous weightage in the consumer’s mind while shopping for a new car.
Case in point, the Tata Nexon crossover, which became the first made-in-India car to be awarded with a full-five-star safety rating in 2018 by Global NCAP, has emerged as the No. 1 product in its category with cumulative sales surpassing 500,000 units in less than six years, with safety attributes being one of the USPs of this sub-four-metre SUV. Similarly, the Mahindra XUV700, Tata Punch, and Altroz, have all seen tremendous customer response to these market offerings, which have banked upon high standards of safety as their key differentiators, and have also set safety benchmarks in their respective segments.
The constructive role played by Global NCAP over the years will now be taken forward by the Bharat NCAP regime, which has formulated a new standard – AIS 197 – that is in line with the revised (July 2022-December 2025) Global NCAP standards, and will impart individual star ratings on a scale of five, for both adult occupant protection (AOP) as well as child occupant protection (COP) offered by a car in a crash test assessment.
According to Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, “The BNCAP is India’s own crash testing programme, and will propel the automotive industry to march towards global standards. It will help the Indian consumer make an informed decision while buying a new car, as well as open a huge opportunity for exporting high-quality, made-in-India cars.”
A long time coming
While the introduction of the Bharat NCAP regime (AIS-197) has been welcomed by India Auto Inc, it has been a long time coming, and took nearly a decade to see the light of day. The idea of an India-specific NCAP was first seeded in 2013, however, the government’s proposal moved at a snail’s pace over the next five years, primarily owing to the lack of consensus within the industry.
According to experts, after floating a proposal for the Bharat New Vehicle Safety Assessment Programme (BNVSAP) in 2013, there were several deliberations between the government, test agencies, and industry over the next few years towards the formulation of a new standard that would ensure crashworthiness of a new car model before it hit the market.
However, it is understood that the lack of industry preparedness in terms of the requisite crash infrastructure, the reference point for a new protocol, cost impact, as well as the fear of impact on the sales of non-performing models particularly in the mass-market segments, kept pushing the introduction of a crash regime to the future, even as Global NCAP took this as an opportunity to launch its ‘Safer Cars for India’ campaign around the same time.
As work on the BNVSAP (now BNCAP) remained slow in the background, the government, on the other hand, took stringent measures to enhance safety of all vehicles belonging to the M1 category (passenger-carrying vehicles up to nine seats). India adopted the Economic Commission for Europe of the United Nations (UNECE)’s Regulation 94 crash test standards and made it part of homologation requirement for every new model from April 2017.
These crash test standards continue to be in place as homologation requirement for every new car, and demand a car to be assessed in a crash test for forward collision at a speed of 56kph, and at 50kph for a side-impact collision, before being allowed to be sold in the market. The government also equipped test agencies, including ARAI in Pune, GARC in Chennai, and ICAT in Manesar, with state-of-the-art crash labs to test and certify all new models.
The vehicle safety was further bolstered with the MoRTH first making ABS mandatory in all cars from April 2019, a driver airbag from April 2020, and mandatory dual-front airbags from January 2022.
The BNCAP standards
In line with the revised Global NCAP standard, the BNCAP or AIS-197 protocol will test cars for a frontal-offset crash test at a speed of 64kph (higher than the homologation requirement of 56kph), a side-impact test at a speed of 50kph, and specifically undertake a side-pole impact crash test at 29kph, particularly to impart a 3/4/5-star rating to cars.
As a result, the government, which had earlier proposed to make six airbags mandatory in all new cars in India from October 1, 2023, has dropped its plans as it now believes the new BNCAP regime will push OEMs to equip their cars with the highest levels of active- and passive-safety features to obtain a high star rating.
"We have introduced the BNCAP regime which demands six airbags for a 4- / 5-star rating. Therefore, there is no need to mandate six airbags in cars now. It will automatically push OEMs to offer them," Nitin Gadkari, recently said at a mega auto-industry event in the national capital. "Manufacturers who are offering six airbags are gaining more market share. The market has accepted this trend. Those who do not want to offer, are facing problems as far as their sales are concerned,” he added.
While there is a marginal difference between the BNCAP and GNCAP test protocols, with the latter allocating two additional points for seat-belt reminders, OEMs in India are gung-ho about the new regime and are willing to get their latest offerings tested to get a safety validation and attract buyers.
New models line up to get tested
The BNCAP regime, which will be anchored by the Pune-based Central Institute of Road Transport (CIRT), has already received request to test over 30 new car models. According to the government, the cost of a BNCAP crash test in India is estimated at Rs 60 lakh, which will be almost a fourth of what a vehicle manufacturer would pay to get their new model tested elswehere.
While India’s largest carmaker Maruti Suzuki India has assured that it will volunteer to get its cars tested under the BNCAP standards, Hyundai Motor India is also eyeing a good star rating for its latest mass-market entrant – Exter crossover.
According to Tarun Garg, COO, Hyundai Motor India, “Safety has been a key focus area with the Exter, and with all the structural changes that we have done along with offering six airbags as standard, and ESC right from the base trim, we will have a good (B)NCAP rating.”
Tata Motors, which recently introduced the facelifted version of its Nexon crossover – which was also originally India’s first 5-star-rated car, says it is in the process of getting it evaluated under the BNCAP protocols. “We are in the process of getting the certification as the BNCAP regime comes into effect on October 1, 2023,” Shailesh Chandra, Manging Director, Tata Motors Passenger Vehicles, said at the launch of the updated Nexon on September 14.
“We are immensely proud to witness the inauguration of Bharat NCAP, a significant milestone in enhancing vehicle safety standards in India. We applaud the collaborative efforts of the government, regulatory bodies, and the automotive industry,” Chandra had said at the regime’s introduction earlier in August.
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