The introduction of ASEAN NCAP is part of a wider effort under the United Nations (UN) Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011 – 2020, which seeks to reduce road fatalities by 50 per cent by 2020.
Among the UN initiative’s five pillars of action is to build safer vehicles. This includes requiring member states to introduce safety standards developed by the United Nations' World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulation (WP 29). Each region is also required to implement its own NCAP.
Although ASEAN NCAP, together with Euro NCAP, Australasia NCAP, Latin NCAP, Japan NCAP and Korea NCAP are all part of the greater Global NCAP, there are slight differences amongst them. It would not be realistic to implement some of the rigid requirements used in Euro NCAP in developing markets like Latin America and South East Asia.
ASEAN NCAP is funded by the Global NCAP and the FIA Foundation. Curiously, ASEAN NCAP receives no funding support from the Malaysian government, butmore on that later.
Earlier in March, Automotive Industry Review was invited by MIROS to witness the crash test of a Peugeot 208. ASEAN NCAP's Secretary General Mr. Khairil Anwar was there to explain to us the process of preparing a car for a crash test.
ASEAN NCAP testing is done in three locations - Passenger cars are tested in the MIROS' PC3 lab in Ayer Molek in Melaka, but vehicles above 1.8 tonnes are tested either at the Japan Automobile Research Institute (JARI) or at the Korea Transport Safety Authority Lab.
The MIROS PC3 lab is only in its early stages of development and thus the scope of work that can be done there is still limited. Presently, the lab is only equipped to do off-set frontal collision and side car impact testing. It is not yet able to do side pole impact testing. The capacity of its pulley also limits it to testing only light vehicles below 1.8 tonnes.
Starting from the current phase 3, all cars that scored four stars and above will be tested for side vehicle impact protection, based on UNECE R95 standard of 50 km/h, which is the same as NCAP standards. Of course, the test must be done with another unit of the same model.
Khairil explained that vehicles are selected for testing based on their popularity in the market, country of origin, brand and body type.
There are two options to selecting a vehicle - ASEAN NCAP will either purchase the vehicle from a showroom or a manufacturer can opt to sponsor a vehicle for testing.
In the case of the latter, a manufacturer can only notify ASEAN NCAP of its intention to participate, but it is not allowed to dictate which particular unit is to be used for testing. Instead, ASEAN NCAP's technicians will select a random vehicle based on the Vehicle Identification number (VIN) and have it transported to the crash lab.
In the case of the former, the vehicle will be registered as a company car under MIROS, which pays the full price of the car, including all the necessary taxes. As ASEAN NCAP tests various models sold across ASEAN, including left-hand drive models, the vehicles will be shipped over to the respective test labs and declared as research products.
"When the car arrives here, we will call the manufacturer," said Khairil.
It was surprising to learn that although MIROS is related to the Malaysian Ministry of Transport, it does not get any exemptions in import and excise duties, or any form of financial support in purchasing and shipping the test vehicles.
When asked why, Khairil shrugged and explained, "You know when government deals with the government it is more complicated than the government dealing with private (sector)," adding that requesting for duty exemptions and financial support will have to involve many other government agencies and ministries.
"I don't know why, but it is always difficult. But if we ask somebody else to do on behalf of us, we can bring the car from Indonesia. Last time we asked MITI 'Hey please help...' but...now we say, 'Hey guys (the third parties), use our name,' and the car is here!"
He also relayed some interesting experiences his team had in procuring test cars. While most manufacturers are generally supportive of ASEAN NCAP's efforts, there are some who actively try to block ASEAN NCAP's attempt to purchase their vehicles for testing.
"There was once where we made a mistake and notified the manufacturer before the vehicle arrived here. They (the manufacturer) cancelled our order and returned our cheque," he said.
In another case, a Tata dealer raised a red-flag to the manufacturer, which then proceeded to block MIROS from purchasing the Tata model.
"So Tata tried to stop us, so we changed to a personal name (to register the vehicle) and then changed it again (later)," he said.
On the upside, Khairil singled out the Japanese manufacturers for being the most supportive.
"We can see that Japanese manufacturers are really looking forward to it. Most of the cars from Japanese manufacturers are sponsored cars, we don't buy them anymore," he said.
However, there is a simple reason to that. Khairil explains, "Because when they do that, they know that because of our capacity (limitations), we can only buy one model from one manufacturer for each test phase. So they know our capacity, so when they raise their hands, they have room (time) to improve their other models. Let's say this time I am crashing Altis, but actually they are improving Hilux, they know we won't buy another Toyota again because there are other brands we should test," he explained.
Khairil smiles wryly but stresses that he has no issues with this as the objective of ASEAN NCAP is not to punish but to motivate manufacturers to introduce safer cars.
"They are also quite smart, but for me as long as you are improving, that is good," said the former project manager at AutoLiv.
Khairil is proud to say that many manufacturers have since upped the safety standards of their cars, with more than 90 per cent of all cars sold in Malaysia now carrying a minimum of two airbags, up from 20 percent in 2002, while six airbags is becoming a trend these days.
As for active safety, Khairil stressed that electronic stability control (ESC) is very important, but limitations at MIROS PC3 mean that there is no proving ground to objectively evaluate ESC performance, so the team has to contend with just raising awareness, and making ESC mandatory for a maximum five-star rating.
"It's quite tough to do the promotion but we can only talk, talk is well....," said a disappointed Khairil.
"Prevention is better than cure. That is our motto. But whatever case, passive safety must be good enough. That is why I always say two airbags are good enough for protection, after that we should utilise our energy for active safety, for prevention. Those are the only two (minimum) things I want in safety - two airbags and ESC," said Khairil.
Preparing A Test Car
Khairil explained that once a test vehicle arrives at a crash lab, the vehicle will be prepared according to the test protocol adopted.
Fuel will be siphoned out of the fuel tank. The vehicle's engine will be run until it has run out of fuel. The fuel tank will then be filled with water and other ballast until it equals the mass of the fuel tank capacity (calculated using a density of 0.745 g/ml for petrol and 0.840 g/ml for diesel). Ballast equaling 10 per cent of this mass will then be removed, leaving 90 per cent of the mass in the fuel tank.
The oil level and other fluids are topped up to the maximum levels. The vehicle's spare wheel and tool kit are left inside the vehicle. All tyres are inflated according to the manufacturer's recommendation for half load. The vehicle's unladen kerb weight is then measured at the front and rear axle. Ride height is also measured at all four wheels.
To provide a most accurate representation of an actual car in use, about 250kg of additional weight will be added to the vehicle. 36kg of this will be ballast added to the luggage compartment, spread as evenly as possible.
In the front seats, two Hybrid-III dummies, weighing 88kg each (inclusive of instrumentation and cables) will be installed. These dummies cost about RM300,000 each, but they are reusable and their internal components can be replaced. The dummies are re-calibrated after three crashes. Its size is equivalent to the 50th percentile of the population.
At the rear, two more dummies simulating a 3-year old (15kg) and 1.5 year old (11kg) infant are fitted into Brittax child seats, installed according to the manufacturer's recommendations. If the vehicle does not support child seats, an additional 3kg will be added to each of the dummies.
The instruments in the dummies are powered by a temporary power supply unit, fitted in the luggage compartment, with enough power for about five minutes, more than enough to last the duration of the test.
Crucial areas in the dummies like the knees and forehead are painted in either red, blue, green or yellow. This is to ease identification of where the dummy comes into contact with parts of the car.
The vehicle is then rolled back and forth to 'settle' the tyres and suspension, before repeating the process to measure the vehicle's weight. Throughout all this, the vehicle is kept within a controlled 18 degrees Celsius environment for a minimum of four hours, but the requirements of the set-up mean that 12 hours is the norm.
The crash barrier which the vehicle will hit at 64 km/h at 40 per cent overlap, is a honeycomb structure made from aluminium. Although the barrier seems like a simple contraption, there are only two manufacturers in the world that are certified to supply it - Britain's Cellbond and USA's Plascore. This is a requirement from the Global NCAP to ensure consistency in all tests conducted around the world.
During the actual test, a total of thirteen 1000 frames per second 1632x856 resolution cameras will record the event, while a pair of Aries speed meters will measure the velocity upon impact.
The vehicle's ignition is switched to 'On' and the doors are closed but left unlocked, before it is pulled forward. After the vehicle is crashed against the barrier, technicians will inspect for any opening of the doors. Points will be deducted if any doors open.
A pull gauge is used to measure the force required to open the doors, which must not exceed 500 N. This is to simulate a real-life rescue operation where a vehicle's door must be able to be opened from the outside without using any special tools. This related to an earlier article we posted explaining why many new cars today don't come with automatic door locks. Those that still do, are added at a higher cost as the lock release mechanism is quite complicated (nothing like those after-market fitted unit) as it must only unlock AFTER a crash, even with the vehicle's battery disconnected.
Data will then be downloaded from the dummies, and three dimensional measurements are done to measure deformations in the steering column, pedals and vehicle structure.
Analysing the data usually takes about a day.