Star-struck cars risk sales snub

Safer maybe, but no longer on shopping lists

SAFER cars could be more expensive to register and insure due to inconsistent and confusing crash ratings.

ANCAP has successfully lobbied fleets, large companies and governments to only purchase cars with five-star ratings. The national marketing communications manager of LeasePlan Australia, Paul Scully, said the star ratings are “increasingly important to fleet buyers, governments in particular … the car is seen as part of the workplace and ANCAP is the rating they rely on”.

However, such fleet purchasers could be missing out on the latest safety features because of ANCAP changing its requirements and entering a “transition period” culminating in the 2018 adoption of Euro NCAP protocols.

The Suzuki Celerio, for example, is one of the few cars in its class to feature seatbelt reminders in the rear seats, something now mandatory for a new five-star rating. It also protects occupants well in a crash, according to Euro NCAP’s data (supplied to ANCAP), and has the second-highest pedestrian protection score for a light car.

However, because it arrived in Australia in 2015, the Celerio requires five additional safety assist technologies to achieve a five-star rating. It fell short by one SAT, so was rated as four stars, with ANCAP recommending buyers shop for another car.

However, Wheels’ own investigation reveals that of 12 major light car competitors, the Suzuki is one of the safest. If Suzuki fitted a hill-hold system, for example, it would almost certainly be upgraded to five stars.

Four-star cars could soon also be more expensive to register. Last year, NSW roads minister Duncan Gay released a discussion paper proposing higher registration fees for cars without a five-star ANCAP rating. A department spokesperson told us “a final report will be prepared for the government’s consideration and approval in due course”.

The ANCAP safety message can also go the other way. The simplified “accept nothing less” message from ANCAP says “consumers should look for vehicles that have earned the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating”, but many older cars that still boast that rating miss out on now-mandatory “safety assist technology” or potentially life-saving airbags.

The ANCAP website states cars rated four and five stars have “head-protecting technology (side curtain airbags)”. But many ANCAP five-star cars – including the Volkswagen Amarok and Beetle, and Renault’s Clio and Captur – do not have full-length curtain airbags.

The Tata Xenon, which gets four stars, has no side airbags at all and an inferior lap-only seatbelt in one seat.

ANCAP also claims “a vehicle must achieve the highest standards in all tests and feature advanced safety assist technologies (SAT)” to earn five stars, yet many such cars do not meet the current ANCAP requirements for safety assist technologies.