Volkswagen has been accused of making ‘irresponsible savings’ on safety equipment in some markets, after the South American version of its cheap Fox city car scored very poorly in consumer crash tests.
The car, which is built in Brazil for export to Europe, is also very popular with buyers in South America — despite the fact that a basic model there costs more to buy than a much better-equipped Fox does in Europe.
New crash tests carried out by Euroconsumers, one of our sister consumer organisations, show that the best-selling Brazilian version of the Fox would score just two stars out of a possible five (with the second star struck through) in Euro NCAP crash tests. The European Fox, however, scored a respectable four stars when it was tested by Euro NCAP in 2005.
The South American Fox doesn’t come fitted with any airbags nor with sophisticated seat belts with pre-tensioners, which are standard on the European version. The success of Euro NCAP and other consumer tests, such as those carried out by Which?, has meant that such safety kit is fitted as standard to almost all cars sold in Europe.
Carmakers like to promote their safety scores in advertising so go to great lengths to avoid getting a poor safety score. In South America, however, no such rigorous tests exist so manufacturers are currently under no pressure to raise standards there.
Safety is an optional extra
The version of the Fox tested for Euro NCAP last year cost 9,390 Euros (£6,308) and comes with four three-point seat belts, driver and passenger airbags and a seat-belt reminder system. To equip a Fox sold in Brazil with the same basic safety equipment would push its price up to 12,698 Euros (£8,532). Without it, the crash tests showed the driver dummy’s head and chest hit the steering wheel and its knees hit the steering column — both of which result in an unacceptably high risk of serious or fatal injury.
A spokeswoman for Volkswagen UK said: ‘This car was designed and built for the Brazilian market. It was on sale there for some time before being adapted for the European market — an adaptation which involved structural as well as feature changes. We obviously have to build vehicles which are appropriate for the relevant markets and this was designed and built for Brazil.’
Richard Headland, Which? motoring editor, said: ‘This may not affect people who have bought a Fox in the UK, but we’re appalled that VW is charging less affluent consumers in Brazil more for a car that offers a much lower level of crash protection. We support Euroconsumers’ calls for carmakers to offer the same basic safety levels across all markets — good safety should be standard for all, not an option.’