Van safety not good enough - EuroNCAPComment on this story
Many businesses - and large families - use big MPV's, usually eight to nine-seaters, to carry their staff, guests or school soccer teams around.
The problem is that these minibuses are derived from commercial van platforms and, even in the safety-obsessed EU, the legal safety requirements for them are the same as for the cargo-carrying versions - way more lenient than for passenger cars.
So the whitecoats at Euro NCAP took it upon themselves to put some of Europe's best selling van-based people-carriers through a slightly updated version of the very stringent crash tests that passenger cars have to go through - which are a lot closer to real life than the standard requirements for commercial vehicles.
And the results were, to put it mildly, scary.
Of all the people-carriers tested, only the new Ford Transit Custom, due for release in South Africa in 2013, rated five stars.
The Hyundai H1 scored three stars, as did the Fiat Scudo, which is also sold with Peugeot Expert and Citroen Jumpy badges.
The Renault Trafic (which is also available in South Africa as the Nissan Primastar and Opel Vivaro) couldn't do better than two stars.
Euro NCAP secretary general Dr Michiel van Ratingen was appalled, and called on the manufacturers to lift their safety standards above the (pretty basic) legal requirements - and the lawmakers to raise the bar.
"These vehicles are often used for business or considered by families as alternatives to large MPVs," he said. "But, being derived from commercial van platforms, these people-carriers are updated less regularly and are generally less equipped for safety than normal passenger cars.”
"If you have a family with a lot of kids and are tempted to buy such a vehicle, please be aware that they often do not offer up-to-date vehicle safety."
Some manufacturers are coming to the party by committing themselves to specifying better safety equipment on light commercial vehicles that are sold as family cars.
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The Ford Transit Custom, which was actually designed around the Euro NCAP minibus protocol, has curtain airbags that improve protection in the severe pole side impact test, as well as lane departure warning, which also scores brownie points from Euro NCAP.
Fiat has responded by making a front passenger airbag and a speed limiter standard equipment in the Scudo and its Peugeot and Citroën sister models.
Van Ratingen said: "This is a neglected segment, from a safety perspective, with outdated legal safety requirements. Not all have electronic stability control and most provide poor protection for vulnerable road users such as pedestrians."
“But we're optimistic that the safety of these vehicles will improve in the next few years.”