Anyone living in a country where students undergo national testing in order to evaluate a school’s effectiveness knows one thing – teachers will eventually, inevitably, teach the test. If you have a pressing need to pass something, you don’t necessarily learn everything about a topic, you learn what you need to know to pass the test. I did the same thing for my CPA exams – I didn’t learn everything about accounting. I learned around 50% of what I needed to know, then I learned how to effectively index my text books so I could find anything within a minute (no, don’t get me to do your taxes).
One automotive equivalent of a crucial academic examination (a crunch test, if you’ll pardon the pun) is the regime of crash testing that new models have to pass in order to get a decent safety rating. In Europe, that’s the EuroNCAP regime.
A Renault vehicle chief has recently come out with the rather stunning, but perfectly sensible admission that Renault now build some of their cars specifically to pass the test – and no more.
The Captur is built without any rear airbags because Renault knew it would score well in NCAP without them and it would save money.
Pejout admits the Captur would be safer with rear airbags, while providing plenty of justifications for the omission. “It’s always a money issue,” he tells Carsguide. Asked straight-out if the Captur would be safer with rear airbags he answers “Yes”.
But he says rear seats are often left empty, that ESP stability control means fewer side-on impacts away from junctions, and that the Captur is still likely to get a five-star Euro NCAP ranking.
Pejout goes on to say that customers don’t count the number of airbags when looking at a car. They look for the EuroNCAP rating. If the Renault Captur has a five-star rating, which I’m sure it will because engineers design it with the EuroNCAP deformation standards all loaded into computer testing models, then the customer will be happy.
I think there are a few things to learn from this.
First, don’t think that Renault are the only ones doing this. Car companies make decisions about what to leave out of a car all the time and I’ll bet my mother’s life that Renault isn’t the only one ‘compromising’ the safety content of their vehicles.
Second, when you shop for a car, know your priorities. Renault are only doing this because they know what customers look for – the EuroNCAP rating. If their customer feedback told them that people were counting airbags then guess what you’d see.
Third, think about this story the next time you complain about the cost of a new car.
Fourth, there are plenty of people for whom Pejout’s reasoning is perfectly valid. I can’t remember the last time I needed a rear seat in my personal vehicle (my wife’s car – yes. Mine? No.). For a lot of people, rear seat airbag protection is unnecessary and ESP systems do indeed reduce the incidence of driver-induced side impacts.
None of that, however, takes away from the fact that we are in an age where car companies do indeed make (cost) conscious decisions to leave out technology that, if mindfully considered, should be considered a baseline essential for a family car. There was a time when car companies clamoured to see just how much technology they could fit INTO a car. Now we live in a time when they’re all assessing what they can leave out.