Alejandro Furas, Latin NCAP: Leading change in Latin America
Some cars being driven on Latin American streets look identical to those being driven in the United States and Europe. However, as some lack the safety equipment offered in the US and Europe and have poorer structural performance, they are not.
Mandatory national safety requirements for vehicles are established by governments in Latin America, but they are not as stringent as their counterparts to the North and East. This is where the Latin America and Caribbean regional car safety assessment program Latin NCAP comes in.
Latin NCAP is an independent consumer organization carrying out tests such as front and side impact crash tests on cars throughout the region and, according to Alejandro Furas who is the Secretary General of the NGO, it has tested 110 models since 2010.
“We are more demanding than governments in the region. It is Latin NCAP, along with consumer pressure and the will of the automakers, which are really making cars safer in Latin America,” Mr. Furas told Fleet LatAm in an interview.
Below are the takes from my interesting talk with the executive. We discussed safety standards, future expectations, the roll of the fleet manager, and more.
Fleet LatAm Editor Daniel Bland and Alejandro Furas (source: Daniel Bland - Fleet LatAm)
First of all, how does vehicle safety standards differ in Latin America compared to other parts of the world?
Furas: Well, since the 2014 introduction of frontal airbags and ABS requirements in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), there has not been much improvement from the government side to increase vehicle safety requirements.
For instance, Electronic Stability Control (ESC) was expected to become mandatory in Argentina by 2018 but the government – at the last minute - postponed it to 2022.
Comparing local regulatory levels to European ones, LAC is clearly 20 years behind. While side impact protection has been mandatory in Europe since 1998, it is still pending in Latin America. Regulatory requirements in the regions are just weak compared to countries like the United States, Australia, and Europe.
Are you expecting any improvements in the near future?
Furas: Yes, Latin NCAP does expect a shift in governmental regulations soon. The first signs of this happening came from the Brazilian government which is showing clear leadership under ROTA 2030 [15-year automotive industry policy].
Under ROTA 2030, pedestrian protection, pole side impact protection, and Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) are necessary by 2030. Latin NCAP would like this to happen earlier so we will start assessing these aspects of cars approximately 10 years ahead of time.
Although we have not seen any major publication yet from other governments, we do hope that Argentina and Mexico will follow. One thing to keep in mind is that industry lobbying can modify a government decision in Latin America very easily.
Europe vs Latin America
Side impact protection still pending
Could you give me an example of a successful lobby?
Furas: For a while, many fleet managers have been saying that the main safety concern is not within cars but outside them, meaning that pedestrians and cyclists are being killed or badly injured.
As such, Latin NCAP has been pushing for pedestrian protection regulations for quite a while, something that inspired the industry to react and in turn pushed government to develop new regulations. In 2014, this led to the government of Ecuador developing a set of local regulations that included pedestrian protection.
Remember, when fleet managers implement a four or five-star policy as a precondition to buy their fleet cars, they are creating tremendous pressure to develop and improve the market much faster than any regulation.
How should fleet managers publicize their five-star policy?
Furas: If a fleet manager decides to adopt a four or five-star policy, they should announce it ahead of time. I’d say 6-12 months before they adopt it. This gives car makers time to adjust their products and achieve the desired star rating.
What we are pushing for is political will and support from high management in terms of pushing for safer cars.
So, would you say that consumer pressure is the real influencer in policy making?
Furas: Yes, and keep in mind that fleet managers are powerful consumers as they buy more than one car at a time. We at Latin NCAP insist that fleet managers are socially responsible for pushing the cultural changes in society. They first change corporate culture, but this eventually reaches the general public.
Remember that action speaks louder than words. When a company pushes safety but keeps buying cars that are not so safe, employees will read this as “we are not being taken care of”. However, when employees notice that safer cars are a company priority, this culture will spread throughout their families.
Today, consumer awareness is probably the most effective trigger for change and, with the help of Latin NCAP´s information, we can lead the change in Latin America and the Caribbean.
For more on the key insights of fleet vehicle safety and a great opportunity for networking and learning, join us at the Fleet LatAm Conference and Training in Mexico City taking place from 23-25 September. It will be the first event in Latin America focused on gathering Fleet & Mobility Leaders with an International scope. See you there!