The constant media dispute about C-NCAP (China New Car Assessment Program) doesn’t bother Mr. Zhao Hang at all. As chief director of China Automotive Technology Research Center (CATARC), Zhao has put a lot of effort to develop this program, a vehicle crash test known as “Chinese New Car Safety Evaluation Standard”. “Safety, environmental friendliness and energy saving, we must have them all,” he said.
Big Brother of the automotive industry
CATARC was originally a research institute directly owned by government agencies, but now it is a state-owned company that makes its own decisions. Aside from helping to set guidelines for the automotive industry, CATARC also conducts research in some core technologies of the automotive industry, such as:
“We all have a service facility for every aspect of China’s automotive industry. This includes pre-production tasks such as project setup, site selection, and factory construction planning, as well as production-related processes such as auto products, standards, information, testing, certification, quality systems establishment, and employee training. We are also engaged in launch, used car market, automobile financing, car rental and end-of-life vehicle recycling,” Zhao said.
Despite CATARC having such a wide ranging capability, most people are currently interested in its C-NCAP crash test. This controversial test was launched two years ago and has had many supporters as well as critics. Controversy is actually what Zhao was hoping for, and he even doesn’t mind posting negative media comments on CATARC’s official website. The fact that many automotive companies are interested in C-NCAP and requesting trial tests has shown that the C-NCAP results have some market value.
NCAP, or New Car Assessment Program, originated in the US in WW1
970s and was further recognized in the 90s in developed countries such as Japan, Europe and Australia. a common feature of NCAP is that all test cars must be bought on the market, ie rated by ordinary consumers. It is an independent test for the benefit of consumers, with no intervention from car manufacturers.
“The automotive industry in China is big, but few people really understand cars. Common criteria like displacement, interior space and door numbers don’t matter, what matters is how safe you are in the car.” Zhao suggested that the creation of C-NCAP should provide star ratings for safety so that there can be a standard for consumers to select cars. The main purpose of conducting C-NCAP tests is to prompt vehicle manufacturers to improve their technologies and improve vehicle safety.
“C-NCAP is a new vehicle rating program, not just a new vehicle SAFETY rating program. We have to go through crash tests first, but then we add other results to set a systematic evaluation standard for new cars, including safety, displacement and oil consumption tests.” Zhao said that since China is a big energy consumer with insufficient energy supply, and it is also necessary for environmental reasons to conduct displacement and oil consumption tests as part of the program.
C-NCAP could become a guideline for Chinese automakers, Zhao said. “Many manufacturers are now designing products for the next 5 or 10 years by referring to C-NCAP. For example, when fuel economy limits are set for passenger cars, product designers must adhere to those limits. In addition, the analysis results from C-NCAP, which are based on existing road and traffic accident statistics, will also be used for future standard setting, so this could also be a guide for manufacturers.
A cooperation agreement with PICC (People’s Insurance Company of China), China’s largest non-life insurer, was another successful initiative by CATARC. A PICC-sponsored vehicle safety crash test lab opened last year, and PICC had also provided C-NCAP with $2 million in crash test funding. For an independent rating institute like CATARC, its cooperation partners must be free of vested interests, so the number 1 insurer in the country could be an ideal partner.
Although a registered entity, CATARC is not really run as a company as many of its projects are non-profit in nature. At the same time, it has to bear its operating costs itself. The government has capped CATARC’s profits, excessive shares of which must be retained for future projects or public purposes. The cooperation with PICC has therefore brought financial relief to CATARC.
What kind of vehicle certification system does China need?
Zhao said there are significant differences between China’s certification system and those at the international level in terms of methods and organizational management. “China doesn’t have a really formal certification system yet. The existing rules can only be described as an ‘access system’, which only determines whether a certain car model can enter the market based on three main criteria, namely safety, environmental friendliness and energy saving.”
Take security as an example. China has more than 100,000 road fatalities and around 1 million injured. There are only about 200 Chinese cities, each with a population of more than 1 million, so the death toll is equivalent to the destruction of one medium-sized Chinese city each year. Therefore, it is an urgent task for regulators to solve vehicle safety problems and improve the quality of auto products.
CATARC plans and drafts national vehicle standards in China. Zhao suggested that China has good and sufficient standards, but not enough when it comes to execution. And there are rules to follow, but not to be strictly followed. “Market competition cannot take place without supervision. Low-price competition has now become a major problem in China’s auto industry as many manufacturers try to reduce costs through gun building. Such vicious competition harms the industry. Many vehicle models can pass the quality certification when they are in the factory, but not when they go to the outside market. If a certified product is not what is sold to consumers, what is the use of certification?” said Zhao.
“That’s why it’s not enough for the automotive industry to have just one access system, and too many certification programs won’t help either. We must strictly monitor basic aspects such as vehicle safety, environmental friendliness and energy saving, but leave other tasks to the market and consumers. This could be a really effective and realistic method for the industry,” Zhao concluded.
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