Of the 1.24 million people who die in traffic accidents every year, a disproportionate number are found in India. The World Health Organization says an estimated 231,000 traffic deaths occurred there in 2010, roughly 18 percent of the global total. It ranks India and Nigeria as the two most deadly countries in the world, per capita.
If you want an insight into why so many Indian drivers are killed in accidents, look no further than the above crash-test video, which features the consequences of a Datsun GO for the car and its occupants.
Note that the driver's head smacks the steering wheel. That's because there are no airbags in the car, which retails for about $6,500 in current rates. Nor does it have anti-lock brakes.
Global NCAP, the U.K. company that tested the vehicle, says it earned zero of five stars on its ratings scale, as did many other cars tested from the Indian market. The Maruti-Suzuki Swift joined the Datsun GO on the company's zero-star ranking.
But there may be more here than meets the eye. Critics say that Global NCAP, which is not affiliated with the U.S. National Car Assessment Program, has been in a political dust-up with Indian leaders for some time and frustrated that it cannot gain a foothold in the burgeoning Indian automotive market.
The Hindu BusinessLine suggests singling out the Datsun GO, an important new vehicle in the Indian market for parent Nissan, may be retaliation for failed earlier attempts to negotiate entry into the Indian market. The Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers tells the news outlet the crash-test results amount to "scaremongering," and that with regulations already in place from India's government, "there was no reason for Global NCAP to play the proverbial gatecrasher with its own set of rules."
Asked why Global NCAP chose to emphasize the results of the Datsun test more than the Swift, or other Indian-market cars that have previously earned poor crash-test marks, a company official delineated between the difference of older model vehicles versus new ones. David Ward, Global NCAP's secretary general, says the Datsun GO is the only failing car to be based on a brand-new design.
"It is remarkable that Nissan is prepared to launch a new model that is so substandard that there is no point at all in fitting air bags to the car, even as an optional extra," he said. "... Nissan seems to be content to do nothing at all and exploit the uneven application of the minimum U.N. crash test standards in emerging markets. We think this reveals a poor commitment to corporate social responsibility."
Nissan did not return a request for comment.
While the behind-the-scenes squabbling between Global NCAP, Nissan and Indian manufacturers certainly warrants further scrutiny and raises questions about Global NCAP's fevered promotion of the Datsun's crash-results, in the end, we still recommend riding in a car with airbags.