Medilytix Bureau: As safety takes centre stage following the passing away of former Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry in a road mishap recently, Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) are facing questions over how to equip cars with the necessary safety features.

Though OEMs have pointed out that they follow all stipulated safety regulations, the key question is whether incremental safety designs would benefit customers despite increased costs.

Initially, airbags were a low-demand feature, with a typical car buyer in India forgoing essential safety technologies like ABS (anti-skid braking system) or driver airbags due to the cost factor.

This has, however, changed.

Customers are demanding optimum safety parameters and automobile companies such as Maruti Suzuki, Mahindra & Mahindra, Tata Motors, MG Motors, Hyundai, Kia, and others are looking to make the necessary changes to ensure passenger safety.

Experts say the Indian car market may largely not be ready to incorporate all safety features as the market itself is very diverse.

Mid-market auto manufacturers say that in cities, there is no trade-off between high-end safety features and cost. But that may not be the case in semi-urban and rural markets.

This is also why OEMs have several variants of a car model at various price points and features, giving the consumer choice.

Luxury cars have standardised ‘active and passive’ safety features and adhere to the NCAP 5-star ratings, as people who buy them are not worried about incremental costs.

“Influencing the behaviour patterns of road users is very challenging and a long-drawn process. However, we will continue to raise road safety awareness, “said Santosh Iyer, VP-sales and marketing, Mercedes Benz India.

The carmaker showcased the ‘belt slider’ to underline the importance of the usage of seat belts. Some of its safety innovations include autonomous driving with “evasive steering assist” and active brake assist with “cross traffic function”. The advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) features in the S-Class include active brake assist , parking assist, and blind spot assist, including crumple zone, pyrotechnical pre-tensioners with load limiters, and drive assist features.

“Safety is a top priority of our customer offering. Our vehicles, besides meeting safety regulations, are some of the safest in the country as certified by Global NCAP,” said Veejay Nakra, president, automotive division, M&M, one of the largest makers of sport utility vehicles in the country.

Simple features
In the volume segment, rather than having several airbags, a simple rear seat-belt reminder could be far more effective.

“The truth is that six airbags, especially in small cars that don’t go very fast, is an overkill that won’t reduce the deaths on our roads but will certainly kill the small car market,” said Hormazd Sorabjee, editor of Autocar magazine.

Sorabjee says this affects not only the cost of airbags but also the cost of completely re-engineering a car with thicker pillars and broader sections.

In the past few years, commodity price increases, road tax, registration taxes, and stringent regulations have led to increased vehicle prices. This has affected the entry segment the most due to the higher price elasticity of consumers who purchase these vehicles.

“Certainly, a lot of consumers desirous of migrating from the unsafe two-wheeler category to the safer entry-level cars would have postponed the upgrade,” said Shashank Srivastava, senior executive director, Maruti Suzuki, the country’s largest car maker.

The entry-level price point of cars has risen from Rs 2.4 lakh in FY16 to Rs 4.5 lakh in FY22 and could soon rise to Rs 6 lakh.

According to industry estimates, the entry-level car segment has contracted by 75% in the last six years, from 550,000 units in FY16 to 140,000 units in FY22.

Additional features
Car makers say airbags alone don’t make a car safer.

“The introduction of additional safety features surely should be considered for implementation in a practical manner, but those alone don’t make roads safe. “It is the 4 Es that lead to the ecosystem of road safety: education, enforcement, engineering (of roads and cars) and emergency care,” Srivastava said.

Rajeev Chaba, managing director of MG Motor India, says India needs to have a “wholesome integrated approach”. He says vehicle safety for passengers and pedestrians, road infrastructure, and customer education should have an effective ecosystem.

“It would be futile and sub-optimal to address only a part of it. “We must avoid a knee-jerk reaction,” Chaba says.

Enforcement and education are most needed now, says RC Bhargava, chairman of Maruti Suzuki.”There needs to be a concerted drive to enforce the wearing of rear seat belts… and that is non-negotiable,” Bhargava says. The government should also look at the entire ecosystem to usher in safety, a senior

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