The Brazilian government has announced that it plans to build its first crash test facility as part of an effort to improve the poor safety record of cars built and sold in the world's fourth biggest market, where passenger car deaths have spiked in the last decade.
The decision comes a month after The Associated Press published an investigation that showed that many cars built by the world's biggest carmakers and sold in Brazil had significantly fewer safeguards than the same models sold in the U.S. and Europe.
The AP found that Brazilians die at four times the rate as Americans in passenger car accidents and that fatalities rose more than 70 percent in Brazil in the past decade while falling 40 percent in the U.S.
Independent tests have been conducted in Germany on Brazil's most popular car models, and the results are bleak. Four of Brazil's five top selling cars failed their crash tests - the fifth has yet to be tested.
The Brazilian government has recently begun to implement tougher safety standards for its motor industry. But critics have pointed out that without its own crash test centre, the government has no means of verifying safety claims.
“Until now, when it came to the auto industry there was nothing the government was testing,” said a Brazilian government official, who agreed to discuss the situation only if not quoted by name because he wasn't authorized to talk about the crash-test center plans.
The official said the government hopes to have the $50 million crash test center operating by 2017. He noted it was a “politically sensitive” topic in a nation where the motor industry plays a big role in the economy. Brazil's government has repeatedly slashed consumer taxes on cars in recent years in an effort to bolster the nation's economic outlook.
A second official, from the Ministry of Development, Industry and Foreign Trade, which will oversee the building and operation of the crash-test center, also confirmed plans for its construction.
A ministry document outlining plans for the center indicates that it will be built on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro and that carmakers could provide part of the funding for its operation and even use the centre, which led experts to raise concerns about whether the lab can truly be independent.
Engineers, some working for big carmakers, have said that the dangers of Brazilian cars come down to basics: the lack of body reinforcements, lower-quality steel in car bodies, weaker or fewer weld spots to hold the vehicles together and car platforms designed decades before modern safety advances.
Safety experts cautiously hope the planned government crash test centre will begin improving vehicles, but warned that it isn't a complete solution.
“It's a good thing that there will be an independent crash laboratory, but that doesn't mean that cars will be better or safer,” said Alejandro Furas, technical director for the Global NCAP crash test programs. “A crash laboratory is an incredible tool, but there have to be regulations - regulations in Brazil are behind.”
Most notably, Brazil's vehicle safety regulation lacks a “conformity of production” clause that requires vehicle safety performance be spot checked for the entire time the model is produced. In Brazil, that means a car must meet impact regulations only one time.
Further, Furas said that if carmakers helped fund the Brazilian government's facility, then it won't be “really independent at all.” -Sapa-AP