India’s passenger vehicle OEMs up the ante on safety | Autocar Professional

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Among the advances the Indian automotive industry has made in recent years, enhanced safety in passenger vehicles through the integration of passive and active safety systems is one of them. These systems not only aim to mitigate the severity of accidents but also prevent them from occurring in the first place.

Every road crash-related fatality or injury is one too many, and according to several national and international studies, human error is the sole cause in 57% of all accidents, and the contributing factor in over 90% of them on the roads. In India, almost 16 lives are lost every hour –road accidents claimed 155,781 lives and left 443,366 people injured in road accidents in CY22, as per the data of India’s Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MoRTH).

According to MoRTH, over-speeding accounted for more than 72% of all road accidents, over 71% of all deaths, and 72.8% of all injuries in road accidents in CY22. Therefore, both the vehicle per se and road safety are of extreme importance and call for active involvement of all stakeholders, wherein the automotive industry is playing its part by developing and introducing modern solutions, across passive and active safety systems.

While passive safety systems such as seatbelts and airbags have been part of safety equipment in cars for many decades now, in India, their importance and role has gained robust traction only over the past three to four years, with the government gradually tightening the requirement for standard fitment of dual airbags in all new models from April 2021. The life-saving device further gained relevance with the government’s proposal of mandating six airbags from October 2022 albeit the plan was later revoked.

Instead, the MoRTH flagged off India’s own New Car Assessment Programme (NCAP) under the Bharat NCAP banner in October 2023, with the crash test demanding the fitment of six airbags as a prerequisite for a new model to aim for a 4 / 5-star rating under these test protocols that have been inspired from the UK’s Global NCAP.

Over the last 18 months in India’s mainstream passenger vehicle segment, many OEMs including Hyundai Motor India, Honda Cars India and Skoda Auto India have upgraded their portfolios by standardising six airbags across products.

According to Tarun Garg, COO, Hyundai Motor India, “When we announced the move in October 2023, we saw our dealer partners sitting with older inventory facing challenges in liquidating the stock. There is a strong consumer awareness today around safety, and standard six airbags have struck a chord with customers.”

Citroen India too, has committed to offer the passive safety technology as standard across its model range from the second half of 2024, and segment leader Maruti Suzuki as well as homegrown automaker Tata Motors are also upgrading their product range to offer the technology in a phased manner.

However, while passive safety systems have been around for decades, and have saved countless lives on the roads, the recent focus has shifted towards integrating active safety systems into modern-day vehicles to prevent accidents in the first place.

Active systems driving safety

Active safety systems are technological innovations that continuously monitor the vehicle’s surroundings and intervene to prevent potential accidents. One of the most significant advancements in this space is Electronic Stability Control or ESC.

An ESC uses sensors to detect when a vehicle is losing traction and applies selective braking to individual wheels to help the driver regain control. As per various studies, an ESC can reduce the risk of single-vehicle accidents by up to 50%. With the ongoing developments in active safety technology, an ESC is a stepping stone towards advanced active safety solutions such as ADAS. It continuously monitors vehicle dynamics and applies corrective action in real time to help maintain stability and control in various driving conditions, ultimately contributing to improved vehicle safety and driver confidence. An ESC system can mitigate the risk of skidding, preventing rollover accidents, and enhancing steering response.

ESC operates on the principle of selectively applying braking force to individual wheels to counteract any loss of traction or stability. The system continuously monitors various parameters such as wheel speed, steering angle, lateral acceleration, and yaw rate, to detect potential loss of control situations and takes corrective action.

Based on the sensor data, the ESC system determines whether the vehicle is experiencing a loss of traction or stability, which could surface in the form of an oversteer (rear-wheel skid), or an understeer (front-wheel skid), or a combination of both.

If the system detects a loss-of-control situation, it initiates corrective action to help the driver regain control of the vehicle. This typically involves selectively applying brake pressure to individual wheels to counteract the skid and stabilise the vehicle’s trajectory.

As ESC forms the foundation for active safety systems in cars, Advanced Driver Assistance Systems or ADAS, is an emerging suite of highly advanced technological solutions that are further enhancing vehicle safety by taking several measures of pre-empting a collision and avoiding it.

ADAS enhances the safety quotient

ADAS or Advanced Driver Assistance Systems is a suite of technology-enabled driver aids that aim to prevent an accident, and thereby, enhance vehicle safety as well as that of its occupants. The systems work with the help of myriad sensors, radar, and cameras placed at various locations on or inside the vehicle to continuously monitor its surroundings.

The technology leverages the fusion of data from these sensors to pre-empt any potential dangers on the road and uses competent on-board high-performance computers to make critical instantaneous decisions, such as sounding an alarm to alert the driver, or deploying emergency brakes, to avoid a potential mishap.

While the primary role of ADAS is to enhance safety of vehicle occupants, pedestrians, and other motorists on the road, it also enhances driver comfort by virtue of some of its prominent functions.

Adaptive cruise control (ACC), for instance, is a key ADAS functionality that allows the vehicle to follow a lead vehicle and maintain a constant speed relative to its acceleration or deceleration, as well as lane-keep assistance (LKA), are some of the key ADAS features that reduce driver fatigue, particularly over long and arduous journeys. These functions also enhance the vehicle’s fuel efficiency owing to its consistent pace.

ADAS features can be broadly categorised into five levels, based on the extent of automation, and the role they play in assisting drivers. ADAS levels begin from Level 1, which signifies driver assistance in the form of AEB or LKA, to Level 5 implementation, which indicates that the vehicle is capable of full autonomous driving without driver intervention whatsoever.

While manufacturers such as Mahindra & Mahindra, Tata Motors, Hyundai Motor India, and Kia India have started offering Level-2 features in some of their models such as the Mahindra XUV700, Tata Safari, Hyundai Creta, and Kia Seltos, among others, there is a strong offtake of these features in the market.

According to Hyundai Motor India’s Garg, ADAS-equipped models contribute to over 30% of the carmaker’s volumes, whereas in the Creta SUV specifically, the safety suite commands a 41% penetration.

A higher level of safety components and technology also increases a vehicle’s cost but thanks to growing awareness of car and SUV buyers, there is a marked shift in consumer spend on safer models. This is why passenger vehicles with a high Global NCAP or Bharat NCAP crash test rating are succeeding in the ultra-competitive marketplace.

Most of the world’s top safety component manufacturers including Continental, Bosch and ZF, among others, are present in India and are actively engaged in localising their products, either themselves or in collaboration with their Indian partners, which helps reduce component costs and contributes towards OEMs reducing vehicle prices. What’s more, the accent on safety in the car and SUV world is now also spreading to the two-wheeler and commercial vehicle sectors, which can augur well for India.

This feature was first published in Autocar Professional’s May 15, 2024 issue.

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