Second class lives – Do you really want a safer car?

The presentation of the 2017 Fiat Uno has not brought us a new engine family, the GSE. It has also brought a fundamental reflection on safety that would be restricted to the ones that watched the presentation if we were not to talk about it. And that can have even more reach if the Brazilian journalist Boris Feldman decides to take his pertinent question any further than the press conference in which he posed it. We will get to it right away, but the important aspect of it is an old discussion to MotorChase readers: second class lives.

We came to this expression after seeing development or poor countries cars and how they perform badly when it comes to safety. Even if they are sold with the same names and the same appearance that they have in developed countries. And we thought we had covered the problem in a very extensive way until Feldman shot his question at the main executives from FCA in Brazil: Stefan Ketter (CEO), Carlos Eugênio Dutra (Product Director and responsible for the Fiat branding) and Aldo Marangoni (Powertrain Engineering Director).

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Feldman asked why the 2017 Fiat Uno had no Isofix. And he illustrated the question with 2 facts. The first one is that the Fiat Mobi, recently presented in Brazil and produced so far only there, has been presented in Argentina with the child seat hooks, as you can see in its technical specification sheet. The second one is an accident in which a child was thrown out of a Fiat Uno and died because the child seat came loose. We have tried to locate the exact accident to which Feldman made reference, but we have found 4 with the same characteristics effortlessly. So we gave up on searching: all of the kids killed would probably have benefited from Isofix.

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Dutra took the hard job of answering what could be almost inexplicable. Why Fiat is able to export a Mobi with Isofix and not sell it on the country where it is produced? It is important to stress that Argentina demands Isofix in all cars sold there, so Fiat will have to fit it in all cars that it intends to sell in the Argentinian market. But, if you already had the hard job of fitting the system to a car that you produce, why not offer it as standard?

The executive did not give Feldman the runaround. “It is hard to answer such a dramatic question, Boris, but we will put it in a very straight way. We do not sell these cars in Brazil because the Brazilian customer does not care about it. Only 2 child seats sold in Brazil are Isofix ready. And they are very expensive. If we had Isofix on the Mobi or in the Uno, the customers would not buy the right child seats. Without them, the Isofx hooks are useless. Have no doubt that we would offer the system in case customers wanted it”, Dutra said.

You could take him for a cynical, but try to spend half an hour in Brazilian traffic paying attention to other cars around you. Kids travel totally loose, even in face of a law that forbids that. There are not enough police officers to ensure this law is respected, only cameras to fine speeding drivers. It is very hard to deny his logic.

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There are safer cars for sale in Brazil than a Fiat Uno. When it was tested by Latin NCAP, in 2011, it achieved only 1 star in adult protection and 2 stars in child protection.

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The Volkswagen up!, tested in 2014, already with compulsory front airbags, achieve 5 stars in adult protection and 4 in child protection. This could be an unfair comparison, but it is the only one available. The Fiat Uno has not been tested again. But the fact is that, in 2014, the Uno was the 4th best-selling model in Brazil. The up! was the 14th. Dutra is right: the Brazilian consumer does not care for safety. If they did, would there be only 2 Isofix child seats in offer? Surely not: there would be a booming market attracting more competitors. Ironically, that notion is confirmed by the good sales his 1-star car has always had. Especially because prices are not so different between the Uno and the up!.

This is probably something that happens in more countries. More often that we would be comfortable to admit. There are no evil companies willing to kill their current or potential customers (the children). They can be run by insensitive bean counters, for sure, but would they succeed if people gave their money the due importance? The bottom line is that there are less demanding customers that have a really stupid sense of priorities. And unfortunately they are an absolute majority. Give it the most honest and candid thought you can and tell us: are you one of them?

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Gustavo Henrique Ruffo

I have been an automotive journalist since 1998 and have worked for many important Brazilian newspapers and magazines, such as the local edition of Car and Driver and Quatro Rodas, Brazilian's biggest car magazine. I have also worked for foreign websites, such as World Car Fans and won a few journalism prizes, among them three SAE Journalism Awards and the 2017 IAM RoadSmart Safety Award. I am the author of "The Traffic Cholesterol", a book about bad drivers that you can buy at Hotmart, Google Play, Amazon and Kobo.