Vehicle safety set to take a huge step up in India

With the roll out of the Bharat New Car Assessment Programme for India, carmakers are now compelled to offer safety as a key tenet in their products in a market that is witnessing cut-throat competition from global players, and growing consumer awareness and preference on buying safer automotive products.

By Mayank Dhingra calendar 31 Dec 2023 Views icon3644 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
Vehicle safety set to take a huge step up in India

A few weeks ago, to be precise August 22, 2023 would be a day that the Indian auto industry will remember as a landmark date, with the government taking a major initiative of boosting vehicle safety in the country by launching the Bharat New Car Assessment Programme or BNCAP crash protocols for determining new car safety. The BNCAP regime came into effect from October 1, 2023.

The Indianised protocols – AIS 197 – which have been formulated by taking references from UK’s Global New Car Assessment Programme or GNCAP’s latest standards, aim to elevate the existing level of vehicle safety in India by compelling carmakers to offer safety as a key tenet into their products, in a market that is witnessing cut-throat competition from global players, and growing consumer awareness on buying safer products.

The introduction of the BNCAP entails products getting a star rating on a five-point scale, determining their crashworthiness, and the kind of safety offered in case of a forward-collision mishap at a speed of 64km/h – a step up from the homologation requirement of assessing a vehicle’s crashworthiness at 56km/h. The protocols will award stars for both adult-, and child-occupant protection offered by the vehicle.

The BNCAP crash tests will be voluntary for passenger vehicle OEMs to get their cars certified with star ratings based on performances in frontal-offset, side-impact, side-pole-impact crash tests, in line with the revised GNCAP standard. The BNCAP protocol will test cars for the frontal-offset crash at a speed of 64kph, perform a side-impact test at a speed of 50km/h, and specifically undertake a side-pole-impact crash test at 29km/h in case the OEM opts the vehicle to be evaluated for a 3/4/5-star rating. Speaking at the mega BNCAP launch event in New Delhi, Nitin Gadkari, the Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, had said, "Today is an important day in the history of the Indian automobile industry, with whose collaboration we are introducing the BNCAP regime. With suggestions from all stakeholders, the programme has been structured in a systematic way that has been accepted by all. The BNCAP is India's own crash testing programme, based on global standards, and it will propel the industry to march towards global standards, and opens a huge opportunity for exporting high-quality, made-in-India cars. Most importantly, it will help the Indian consumer make an informed decision when buying a new car.”

The latest safety regime also comes as a cost-effective solution for the Indian market, and while the cost of crash testing a car at a global centre is estimated to be around Rs 2.5 crore, the BNCAP test cost is pegged at Rs 60 lakh. “Therefore, it opens significant opportunities for independent testing and homologation bodies such as ARAI, ICAT and GARC to offer time-bound, and transparent testing and crash results,” Gadkari had said.

The government’s safety move has received a warm welcome from the industry, with leaders unanimously applauding the act to be a long-awaited one, and one that would significantly enhance road safety in India. “The BNCAP is a timely effort and will go a long way in making consumers make informed decisions while purchasing a vehicle. It will also help customers compare the safety ratings of different products, and choose the appropriate product,” said Vinod Aggarwal, President, Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM).

Automotive Component Manufacturers Association (ACMA) Director General Vinnie Mehta had said, “In some ways, the BNCAP is better than several protocols implemented globally. It was long overdue, and we believe it will serve as the catalyst for globally harmonised and competitive automotive market in India. It will also lead to rapid adoption of safety technologies in vehicles. Integration of safety features will lead to more investments in the components industry, and increased opportunities for suppliers engaged in the manufacturing of electronics-based advanced automotive components. It will also lead to better export opportunities for the Indian Auto Components industry, and these standards should help the industry to expand its reach to more global markets.”

According to Piyush Tewari, Founder and CEO, SaveLIFE Foundation, "We wholeheartedly welcome this initiative that is set to propel road safety in India. As references, countries like the US have registered a remarkable drop in road fatalities with the introduction of stringent vehicle safety standards. We expect the same to happen in India with the implementation of the BNCAP."

Compelled to offer safety

With the implementation of the BNCAP regime, the government’s earlier proposal to mandate six airbags in all new cars in India stands rested as the stringent protocols would necessitate carmakers to offer these passive safety solutions to achieve a higher star rating. According to Gadkari, “The BNCAP protocols require six airbags for a 4- or 5-star rating. Therefore, there is no need to make these safety devices mandatory anymore as the BNCAP will automatically push OEMs to offer them.”

“Customers have come to understand quality and there is a huge demand for higher safety-rated cars. Manufacturers which are offering six airbags are gaining more market share; the market has accepted this trend. Those who do not want to offer this are facing problems as far as their sales are concerned,” he added.

In line with the government’s intent, on October 3, 2023, their country’s second-largest carmaker, Hyundai Motor India (HMIL) announced standardise six airbags across its model line-up. The company also revealed its plans to volunteer three of its products to undergo the BNCAP crash test regime. According to Unsoo Kim, MD and CEO, HMIL, “At Hyundai, our utmost priority is to offer safety for all and we have been benchmark creators in the standardisation of vehicle safety features. HMIL will continue to spearhead efforts in raising vehicular safety standards in India, thus making Indian roads safer for all.”

India’s largest carmaker, Maruti Suzuki India (MSIL) has also shown its inclination to volunteer to get its products tested under the BNCAP regime, however, maintains that the entry-level segment of cars might not see much impact of the latest crash standards owing to cost constraints. “The volumes in the entry-level segment have been declining over the last couple of years, and if the costs of these products go up further, the sales will decline even more. It is not a segment where people have surplus buying power, and therefore, I do not think there will be much change in safety at this point, beyond what is required in regulations,” RC Bhargava, Chairman, MSIL, told Autocar Professional.

“Having said that, there has been a considerable improvement in the vehicle safety features over the last few years, but despite that, the number of accidents and road deaths have only increased. Therefore, merely increasing the safety features in a vehicle does not necessarily mean that there will be a significant impact on road safety. Most of the accidents are caused by over speeding and human errors; those aspects must also improve along with the safety features,” Bhargava added.

Growth in road accidents in CY22

Bhargava’s comments rightfully come at a time when the road accidents in the country registered a 10 percent year-on-year growth to record 443,366 reported accidents that claimed a reported 155,781 lives in CY22 to register a 12 percent growth in the road fatalities. “By concentrating on just one aspect is not going to deliver the envisioned results unless we also take care of the other aspects,” said Bhargava.

“Issuance of driving licenses, driver training, law enforcement, and vehicle fitness are some of the other areas that need to be simultaneously addressed to bring about a tangible shift in road safety in the country,” he added.

Acknowledging the multi-stakeholder failure in driving up road safety in the country, on December 11, 2023, Gadkari said, “It is saddening that despite our intensive efforts, road accidents in India continue to rise, and take away 19 lives every hour. In CY22, road accidents have increased by 10 percent, and fatalities by 12 percent, and therefore, it is a serious issue that causes a huge socio-economic loss to the country.”

Gadkari was speaking at an event in New Delhi to launch a joint study - Road Accident Good Practices in India – compiled in conjunction with the MoRTH, SaveLIFE Foundation and World Bank Group, and further added, “The kind of awareness needed to reduce road accidents has still not been achieved, and therefore, there is a strong need to drive such education initiatives, particularly targeting the younger generation by spreading awareness right from schools by leveraging effective training and course curriculums.”

“Road safety requires an all-encompassing collaboration between the Centre and States, and without the support from the society — NGOs, social organisations, schools and colleges — it will not work. Everyone must come together to drive the idea of road safety and reduce accidents in the country,” he highlighted.

“Road and automobile engineering, enforcement, education, and emergency care are the four key pillars of road safety, and while we have made everything possible to improve automobile engineering and equip vehicles with all safety technologies, including airbags, and ABS, there is a need to sensitise citizens and propel them to abide by the law,” Gadkari pointed out.

With an initial target to halve the number of road accidents in India by 2024, the Minister acknowledged that India will not be able to achieve this goal due to several shortcomings, and failures of various stakeholders, including the government. “We must take road safety more seriously and target to achieve 50 percent accident reduction by 2030. I am optimistic that we will inch towards that goal,” Gadkari said.

Emergence of driver-assist technologies

With the growing advancement in technology, advanced driver assistance systems or ADAS solutions are increasingly making their way into modern vehicles, and emerging as the next-generation aids to enhance vehicle and road safety. As a result, the Manesar-based International Centre for Automotive Technology or ICAT organised the ADAS Show at its test track on December 7, 2023. While more than 45 companies, including OEMs, Tier I majors, and start-ups showcased their promising solutions, the mega event intended to drive awareness among citizens, and members of the automotive fraternity about the potential benefits of the futuristic technology in reducing road accidents and fatalities.

According to Saurabh Dalela, Director, ICAT, “The objective of the programme is to spread awareness about ADAS technology so that it takes a push, and gives a head start to regulations, localisation, and commercialisation. We are talking about the various types of functionalities in ADAS, how the regulations will take shape, and infrastructure be developed in India, and get challenged by people's questions. Several car manufacturers are already doing work towards the development of Level-1 and Level-2 ADAS technologies at the ICAT test track.”

He further elaborated that regulations around ADAS are taking shape gradually, and India is already deliberating on the Indianised version of the European ECE regulations on ADAS. “That's what usually happens — technology comes first, and regulations follow,” Dalela added.

Customisation and localisation of ADAS in India

In a panel discussion on the topic of ‘Policy and Infrastructure Perspectives on ADAS,’ industry experts discussed the need for Indianised solutions and regulations for the seamless incorporation of advanced safety technologies in vehicles on Indian roads.

According to Dr Hanif Qureshi, IPS, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Heavy Industries, “While the introduction of any new technology requires standards to be in place, the question here lies what the standards should be. Our road conditions are quite different from other parts of the world, and we cannot implement standards from other nations. “While there are no standards enforced at present, it is an area that needs to be developed,” he said while adding that India is primarily a small car market, and with ADAS being an expensive technology, industry and government must decide what features of ADAS will be useful for the country.

“ADAS calibration is about taking over the cognitive ability of the human being and while it requires standards to ensure safety, the flip side, however, is that while we limit our focus on devising certain standards, there could be several other use cases that evolve,” said Dr Tapan Sahoo, Executive Director, Executive Director, Engineering, Maruti Suzuki India.

“Therefore, liability is going to be a key challenge that needs to be addressed from a policy standpoint. As ADAS matures further, the big challenge is component localisation, as the cost of the ADAS technology is quite high. The use cases for ADAS in India are so unique that India provides the potential of being the test bed of ADAS solutions for the world,” Dr Sahoo added. While automotive companies are working towards calibration of ADAS for the Indian market as well as innovating cost-effective solutions for the country, the government push in the form of production-linked incentive or PLI scheme is also acting as a key enabler to localise the technology and help lower its cost of production.

According to Dr Qureshi, “The government's focus is towards advanced automotive components, and that is the reason schemes such as PLI and FAME are important. ADAS is incentivised under the Rs 26,000 crore Auto PLI scheme with 85 applicants, of which 67 are automotive component companies. ADAS components are one of the key technology elements being incentivised under the PLI scheme.” Nirmal K Minda, Chairman, Uno Minda, said, “The PLI scheme is helping the industry to localise advanced components by doing backward integration. With India being the fastest growing economy in the world, there is a big opportunity for India going forward, and all automotive and electronics majors are looking at the country.” According to Ganesh S Rao, Director and Head — R&D ADAS Engineering and Autonomous Mobility, Continental India, “The current road infrastructure in India cannot see plug-and-play ADAS solutions from overseas becoming successful, and this is where Indian talent comes to the picture to solve these challenges by developing customised solutions that are tested and validated in the Indian road environment.”

Way forward

Given the growing public awareness around road safety, and intensified measures such as the regulatory framework that demands a certain level of safety equipment in all vehicles, there is considerable effort in the safety domain that promises to reduce accidents on the Indian roads. However, the country is far from reaching a net-zero future in terms of accidents, and requires continued, collective efforts from all stakeholders, including the government, industry, non-for-profit organisations, and finally, its citizens, who will eventually ensure accidents are curbed by virtue of their safe driving practices, and observing empathy for other road users such as motorists and pedestrians.

The vision to cut down road accidents in India by half by the turn of the decade is achievable by citizen mindfulness, and their sincere obeyance of traffic laws and driving etiquettes, whilst, on the other hand, tightening regulations and advancing technology continue to enhance safety for all on the road.

This feature was first published in Autocar Professional's December 15, 2023 issue.

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