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Safety Rating Processes Create Confusion for Consumers

A discussion over the safety levels of used vehicles has once again been highlighted by politicians and media with the proposal of feebates for vehicles offering low emissions. This has focused on the star rating of some of New Zealand’s most popular used import models. Yet the process for establishing these safety ratings has not been explained clearly, often confusing the general public.

“There is clear confusion over how older vehicles are being safety assessed, and the differences in specifications between New Zealand new vehicles and used import models that often have lower safety equipment levels.” said Gary Collins, General Manager of Automobile Marketing for Suzuki New Zealand Ltd. “When a used vehicle is offered a star rating from 1 to 5 we can understand that customers would expect this is based on the same system as new vehicles; they are completely different.”

The 2011 -2016 Suzuki Swift has been singled out by politicians and media when referring to vehicles that could potentially be banned from future import as used vehicles. Yet the model achieved one of the highest occupant protection ratings ever recorded for a light segment vehicle when launched with a score of 35.55 out of 37 for occupant protection resulting in a 5 star ANCAP rating.

This equated to a 94% score for Adult Occupant Protection. For reference, some other models tested under the same protocols in 2010 were the BMW 5 series (95%), Audi A1 (90%), and Mercedes Benz GLK (89%).

The New Zealand Transport Agency references the Australasian New Car Assessment Programme (ANCAP) crash testing procedure as their safety rating until cars are seven years old. Cars older than this are rated on the New Zealand Government’s Used Car Safety with ratings based in part on data from South Australian and local crashes involving both new and used import models. As the Swift model name applies for both New Zealand new and Japanese used imports they are not separated on the Used Car Safety rating.

“There has been little reference to the fact that the recent discussions on vehicle safety are not based on the internationally recognised ANCAP safety ratings which is what all new vehicles are judged on. Obviously, this alternative rating for earlier model cars is much more subjective than the standardised and highly regulated ANCAP crash testing with results not reflecting the international ANCAP standard,” said Collins. “It is difficult to understand how a vehicle can achieve a 5 star ANCAP rating with very high scores for occupant protection, and yet be scored a one star under the government’s used car rating system”.

Under the Government’s Used Car Safety rating 58% of all Light Segment vehicles have a one star rating with many of these models performing well in ANCAP safety testing.

“We have been insistent on offering the highest safety specifications for our new Swift models, yet used import models are permitted to arrive with virtually no safety equipment. Fortunately, from 1 March 2020 all used import models will need to include ESC (electronic stability control) which will prevent the importation of many used imports with low levels of safety equipment,” says Collins. “We would welcome the introduction of compulsory side and curtain airbags also which come as standard equipment on all new Suzukis.”

All Swift models imported by Suzuki New Zealand since 2005 as new vehicles have gone through the ANCAP crash testing procedure and have achieved an ANCAP crash rating of at least 4 stars.

The 2011 New Zealand new Swift had the highest possible safety rating when launched, with assessments including adult occupant protection, child protection, pedestrian protection and safety assist. The model’s 5-star safety package included ABS with EBD, ESP, 7 airbags and high strength body design that rated the car top of its class for safety.

Suzuki has continued to upgrade the safety of its award-winning Swift with each successive model and the latest generation launched in 2017 boasts a top ranking in independent new car safety standards, with all automatic versions achieving a maximum 5 Star ANCAP rating.

Latest features on the current Swift include a light but efficient HEARTECT technology platform that uses ultra-high tensile steel improving structural rigidity and passenger protection.

Many of the latest generation Swift models, including the Swift Sport, has state of the art safety, with certain accident avoidance features not found as standard on larger, more expensive new cars. These models have an advanced forward detection system with a monocular camera, laser, and millimetre wave radar, adaptive cruise control, high beam assist, lane departure warning, weaving alert, and dual sensor brake support.

We strongly support the improvement in safety standards of vehicles on our roads and specify our new vehicles with the latest safety technology. Our suggestion is that customers ensure they gain a clear understanding of the specifications of the models they purchase, especially for used import models. We would recommend as a minimum they include Electronic Stability Control plus side and curtain airbags.


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