I’ve been thinking a lot about vehicle safety since Datsun made its reappearance in SA.
For those who don’t know about the controversy, allow me to give you a quick history lesson.
The Datsun brand has made a return to the SA market. The first vehicle in its new line-up, the Go, was launched in SA around three months ago at a retail price of less than R90 000.
That’s good news, right? An all-new car made by a respected manufacturer (Datsun is Nissan’s budget brand, just like Infiniti is its luxury arm) that retails for less than R90 000. Sounds too good to be true and as it turns out, it sort-of was, depending on how you feel about what should be standard safety equipment on new vehicles.
At the launch it soon emerged that the Go had neither airbags nor ABS brakes. There was some huffing and puffing, but the hype soon died down.
A few weeks later the hype came back in a big way. The Go scored zero in an important safety test, after which the experts said it was so structurally weak that the fitment of airbags wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Ouch!
Soon after that, Global NCAP chairman Max Mosley wrote to Nissan calling for the withdrawal of the Datsun Go from India and the related markets in which it is sold.
I still haven’t decided if I’m with Max on this one, because I don’t like the idea of taking the freedom of choice away from the consumer. It almost seems as if they are telling the young working people (Datsun’s marketing material makes it quite clear who they are targeting) what they can and can’t have, without first finding out where they stand on this topic. As far as I can see, the youth don’t seem much interested in safety.
I attended the launch of a small hatch a few years ago and I remember that during the media briefing it emerged that the entry level model did not have ABS brakes. It had a banging sound system with a USB port, front electric windows and air conditioning. The research had shown that these things were more important to young people than ABS brakes, so that’s what the manufacturer provided.
Who is really at fault here? The manufacturer that gives customers what they want, or the customer, who would rather have a decent radio (or a docking station in the case of the Go) than what many experts regards as the most important active safety system of them all?
To find out, I asked a group of young people. Shockingly, most of them did not know if their cars had ABS brakes. Nor could they explain what ABS does. “It helps you brake faster, doesn’t it?”
Something needs to be done about educating our youth, because their blissful ignorance means Datsun is selling more than 500 Gos a month.
Just hang on a second though, because I can still remember what it was like to be young and buying my first car.
I bought a brand-new Corsa — not because of its safety equipment but because it had 10kW more power than its competitors. After the purchase, I kitted it out with a set of insane 6×9 speakers, a subwoofer and a set of sick alloy wheels.
My outlook on safety has changed over the years to the point that I’m now bordering on obsession. It recently took me two weeks of intensive research to decide on which forward facing child seat I should buy, and I’m not the only one who thinks this way. I spent a few hours in a car with three young dads recently, and we had a ball discussing our young ones and the adjustments we have made in our lives to make things a bit safer for them.
I could never, in all good conscience, recommend the Datsun Go to anyone, but I also don’t want to tell a 20-year-old to get his priorities right. And besides, Datsun never hid the Go’s specifications from anyone. As far as I can tell, they were upfront front the start. Not to mention the number of jobs they have created by bringing back the brand.
SA has far more important road safety basics it needs to work on before it gets to deciding on what should and shouldn’t be standard in a car. Drunk driving, fake licences, police corruption and unroadworthy vehicles seem far more important and interesting topics — to me, anyway.