New Delhi: Road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari on Tuesday mooted the idea of having a minimum 6 airbags on cars in India but in a market that produces some of the cheapest cars in the world, the ability of consumers to pay for them remains suspect.
“In the interest of passenger safety, I have also appealed to all private vehicle manufacturers to compulsorily provide a minimum of 6 Airbags across all variants and segments of the vehicle,” the Minister shared on his Twitter account.
India’s journey towards safer cars is relatively recent. For the longest time, there were no significant standards for safety and a majority of cars were not equipped with any airbag till 5 years back. The introduction of Bharat New Vehicle Safety Assessment Programme in 2019 meant all new cars now come equipped with at least a standard driver side airbag.
Adding more airbags would for sure, make cars safer but also more expensive, which maybe counter-productive.
It is all good to talk about more features but it all adds to the cost. Policymakers need to think in terms of the consumer–how much is he willing to pay and for whatR C Bhargava, chairman, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd
“It is all good to talk about more features but it all adds to the cost. Policymakers need to think in terms of the consumer–how much is he willing to pay and for what,” says R C Bhargava, chairman, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd. “That is my biggest grouse. Just because it is prevalent in some other market doesnt mean it should be here. The per capita incomes are vastly different. Cars should not become so expensive that the masses cannot afford them.”
For a car like the Swift–the current bestseller in India, which comes with only 2 airbags, adding four more would make it more expensive by over Rs 25,000. At a time when the automobile industry is already facing multiple headwinds, it is something that the industry would want to avoid.
“Nobody can argue that cars should not be made safer. But globally consumers do not want to pay for the extra safety equipment. They would rather pay for better air conditioning or more fuel efficiency. They presume all cars are safe and want to take a chance on it,” says Ravi Bhatia, President and Director, JATO Dynamics.
“The consumers also does not get any reward for it by way of lower insurance premium. If that can be changed and insurance firms are made to offer incentives, then this would make more sense,” Bhatia adds.
Gadkari’s appeal for more safety makes sense on a larger scale. With over 480,000 road accidents causing loss of lives of 151,113 people in 2019, India has the most unsafe roads in the world. A part of it is due to lack of safety in cars. With a number of super expressways coming up in the country, Gadkari has also been advocating increasing the speed limits on highways, which would make it necessary for cars to have better safety kits.
“He is right about that but most of the accidents do not happen on highways. They happen in the city at negligible speeds,” Bharagava says. “We should not lose sight of the bigger picture. When a two wheeler user shifts to a car that is already a big step up on safety. If a car becomes more expensive it prevents him from doing so and the whole purpose of safer roads will be lost.”