The National Agency for Automotive Safety and Victim’s Aid recently released the results of its 2009-2010 New Car Assessment Program, which is designed to test the safety of new automobiles in six different crash situations. The winner of the Grand Prix was Subaru’s Legacy touring wagon (list price ¥3.2 million), which, according to the results, was the only model out of the 17 tested this time that received high marks across the board, including the so-detailed-it’s-scary “pedestrian head protection performance test.”
Good news for Subaru, though when we visited a showroom the salesman said his dealership had yet to take PR advantage of the news. Considering the controversy over the recent Toyota recalls in the U.S., one might think any salesman would make a big deal out of such a positive safety assessment. After all, when Consumer Union in the U.S. releases test results for new cars in its Consumer Reports magazine, positive ratings can do wonders for a model’s sales.
But Consumer Reports tests everything, not just body integrity in a collision. The purpose of the NCAP is to promote safety-related research and development among auto makers, but all it really does is test these cars in crash situations. As it stands, all the cars seem to do quite well: The difference between the Legacy and the other cars tested is a matter of very small degree. In fact, NASVA was just investigated by the Government Revitalization Unit, which is trying to cut bureaucratic waste. Apparently, there are two government organizations testing cars in crashes, the NASVA and the National Traffic Safety and Environment Laboratory. The differences in the two bodies’ test methods appear to be very slight, so the investigating unit wanted to know why Japan needed two. Apparently, the “power of impacts” tested are different. In any case, NTSEL may receive less money in the next budget.
Of course, what would really help potential car buyers is data about individual models that have been involved in accidents in the past, but that information is closely guarded, even by the police , who never reveal makes and models of cars involved in accidents, though they surely have that information on record. The NCAP obviously has a function, but the very fact that they award a Grand Prix suggests they’re less interested in safety than in devising tests. After all, they have never reported a car as being not safe. So the Subaru salesman’s blasé attitude about the Legacy’s prize is understandable. For most consumers, a safety award from the government probably isn’t going to be as much of a factor in selecting a car as price, design and features are.