You've probably never heard of Qoros. It’s a Chinese car brand, jointly owned by Beijing-based Chery Automotive and the government-backed Israel Corporation. I know, the globe’s automotive centres of excellence have moved a long way from Detroit, Stuttgart and Dagenham…
Qoros is one amongst many burgeoning Chinese car makers, part of the growing trend which has lead many to suggest that in ten year’s time, we’ll all be driving Chinese cars. One of the major stumbling blocks to that potential success has been safety levels. Landwind, one of the first Chinese car makers ever to try and sell its wares in Europe, stumbled over just that block when it submitted its CV9 people carrier to crash test experts EuroNCAP. It scored just two stars out of five, with a measly 34 per cent score in the adult protection test. Oh dear.
Qoros though is quite clearly doing things differently. It’s 3 saloon didn’t just do well on its EuroNCAP test. It didn’t even just score the maximum five stars. It actually, with an adult occupant score of 95 per cent, was the safest car in the family car class that EuroNCAP tested in all of last year. To put that in context, in the class, only the ultra-safe Volvo V40 does better, with an adult occupant score of 98 per cent.
If your child came home from school with a 95 per cent score on their exams, you’d be cock-a-hoop, so for a Chinese car maker it must have been like all their birthdays coming at once.
What Qoros has to say....
Volker Steinwascher, Vice Chairman of Qoros, said: “The safety of our vehicles was one of our key development goals from the start. It’s a crucial demonstration that our customers are the most important consideration and it also says a great deal about the engineering integrity of the car as a whole.”
Thus far, Qoros’ only foray into the European market has been in Slovakia, but the brand will be showing off both saloon and the new hatch version of the 3 at the glamorous Geneva Motor Show which is as good a sign as any that it has serious ambitions for other European markets.
Presumably with that sort of safety rating, a table-topping sales performance in major markets such as Germany, France, the UK and indeed Ireland is a mere formality, right?
Well, perhaps not because there is it would seem a deep disconnect between the levels of safety a car can provide and both new sales performance and retained resale value.
These days, it’s the norm for an average family car to score a maximum five-stars on that benchmark EuroNCAP test, so a very high levels of occupant (and increasingly pedestrian) safety is increasingly taken as being as the norm. What can differentiate a car on the basis of safety then are extra toys and gizmos that come under the heading of active safety. Active safety means the likes of Volvo’s City Safety and Pedestrian Safety systems, which use cameras and radar to scan the road ahead and can take control to slam on the brakes if they detect an accident is about to happen. (Passive safety, in case you were wondering, means things like seatbelts, airbags and crumple zones – the stuff that protects you when an accident actually occurs.) Mazda can provide you with a similar system, as can Mercedes-Benz.
None of those three companies enjoys an especially massive market share though. Once-might Mercedes has slipped behind rivals BMW and Audi in the premium sales race, while both Mazda and Volvo languish low down the sales charts with single-digit market shares.
Indeed, according to thisismoney.co.uk, the worst depreciating car of all time is the Volvo S80 T6 AWD, a car which sheds 75 per cent of its value in a single year. OK, so that’s a specific model with an unwanted, thirsty petrol engine (the rest of the S80 range does rather better in terms of depreciation) but you will simply not find a safer car out there – nothing protects you better in a crash than a Volvo.
Unless perhaps it’s a Mercedes, and there is no surprise in that either, because Mercedes is, along with Volvo, one of only two car makers that has agreements with local government and police forces which allows it access to accident sites involving its own cars. This sort of CSI: Stuttgart procedure allows Merc (and Volvo) to gain real-world accident performance data far more pertinent than what can be found in the laboratory. No surprise then that it was both Mercedes and Volvo which have, over the years, pioneered (even flat-out invented) such things as the crumple zone, the three-point seatbelt and electronic stability control.
Safety is a tough sell to the average punter though. Think back a few years to when anti-lock brakes were still an optional item. It’s a sad fact that many car buyers ignored that tick-box on the options list and instead went for air conditioning, a sunroof or a better stereo. Those items could contribute to a better resale value – ABS simply didn’t. Worryingly now, many of those non-ABS cars are still out there for sale second hand, and many modern buyers get into them not realising that there is no backup when they have to hit the middle pedal hard.
Does car safety really sell?
There’s an irony in the case of Renault. Renault made the first car ever to score a maximum five-stars on the NCAP test, when it launched the 2001 second-generation Laguna. Pretty soon every Renault was scoring five stars come NCAP time. But it took a huge discounting scheme, boosted by scrappage, to lift Renault up to the top of the sales charts and when those schemes ended, many buyers were left with a hard hit of depreciation. The irony comes in when Renault realised it could do better by selling cheap and cheerful Dacia Duster SUVs – a car that can only be specified with life-saving electronic stability control on the very top-spec model.
It doesn’t help that the Government still charges the full rate of both VAT and Vehicle Registration Tax on safety items, in spite of the fact that road deaths and injuries are still reckoned to cost the state more than €2-billion every year.
So, good luck to Qoros. It may well become the first Chinese car maker to make serious inroads into the European market. That EuroNCAP rating probably won’t make much of a difference either way though, simply because buyers (and governments) tend to ignore safety systems until they really, really need them.