Renault’s Zoe electric car has been awarded the lowest possible crash test rating by experts due to the French brand removing a life-saving piece of safety equipment.
The current version of the small zero-emission vehicle no longer has a seat-mounted airbag to protect an occupant’s head in a side impact. As a result, in a sideways collision with a pole it was found to directly impact a driver’s skull without any additional protection.
The Zoe becomes only the third car in 25 years of testing to achieve a zero-out-of-five rating from renowned vehicle safety assessor, Euro NCAP, making it the least safe new car Britons can buy in showrooms today.
Incredibly, on the same day the shocking crash tests results are published, Renault announced it is switching its entire courtesy car fleet at dealers in England and Wales to the electric Zoe.
And it wasn’t the only model to score poorly in the latest round of tests; Dacia also achieved a lowly one-star rating for its first electric car – the Spring crossover – which is yet to be confirmed for the UK market.
French car flunks crash tests: The electric Zoe is only the third new car to score ZERO stars in Euro NCAP assessments after Renault removed a side-impact head airbag from the model in 2020
Safety experts say the side-pole collision test the £27,595 (after the £2,500 Plug-in Car Grant) electric car failed abysmally replicates real-world impacts involving a vehicle skidding into rigid roadside objects, such as trees or lampposts.
Thatcham Research says a third of these collision types are classified as fatal or serious accidents, because the solid object can penetrate deeply into the passenger compartment.
For the last 20 years, cars have offered extra protection to occupants with the use of a specific seat-mounted airbag that is designed to shield a driver or passenger’s head and thorax area if this type of accident.
However, when the vehicle was facelifted in 2020 it changed the safety system so that it offers only protection for the thorax – and not the head.
Because Renault has deleted this feature from the latest version of the Zoe, the tests revealed that a pole can strike the driver’s head and almost certainly result in serious injuries.
Matthew Avery, Thatcham Research’s chief strategy officer, said it is a ‘serious concern to see results like this in 2021’, especially given the vital safety feature previously fitted has now been omitted.
It is also extremely surprising given Renault’s historical safety track record.
Safety experts awarded the car zero stars for a multitude of failings, though most notably the omission of a head airbag. The EV costs from £27,595 in the UK (with the £2,500 EV grant)
Most new cars offer a specific seat-mounted airbag designed to shield a driver or passenger’s head and thorax area if this type of accident. However, Renault’s updated system in the Zoe only protects the thorax
The low scores across all four categories reviewed by Euro NCAP means the Zoe is only the third car in 25 years of testing to be awarded the lowest zero star safety rating
Renault announces every courtesy car will be a Zoe across its dealer network on the SAME DAY the car’s zero star safety rating is published
Poor timing? On the same day the Zoe’s zero-star safety rating is published, Renault says the EV will exclusively be used as courtesy cars at dealers in England and Wales
On the very same day Euro NCAP awarded the Zoe its lowest rating – an unwanted achievement only claimed by two other models in 25 years of the independent body crash testing vehicles – Renault has said some customers could soon be forced to drive one.
Renault Retail Group announced on Wednesday that it is switches its 164-strong fleet of courtesy cars at 15 franchised Renault and Dacia dealers in England and Wales to Zoe EVs.
It currently has 21 Zoe E-Tech models available as courtesy cars, but the remaining fleet of Clios, Capturs and Dacia Sanderos will now all be the zero-star-rated electric supermini.
‘With each courtesy car travelling up to 5,000 miles a year, it will also help customers and Renault Retail Group to cut their carbon footprint and contribute to improving air quality in the local environment in which they work and live,’ the brand said.
Managing director, Ludovic Troyes, added: ‘By switching to electric courtesy cars, Renault Retail Group is giving all our customers the opportunity to experience the benefits of electric motoring, so they too can take advantage of affordable running costs whilst being kinder to the environment.”
The French brand became the first car maker to score a full five-start Euro NCAP rating in 2001 with its Laguna family model, which also happened to be the first mainstream car to include the combined head and thorax airbag the Zoe is without.
‘Although this was a new and revolutionary safety measure at the time, today this airbag is available on most modern cars,’ Mr Avery explains.
‘Unfortunately, a conscious decision has been made to remove the head protection from this vital passive safety feature, by the brand that pioneered the use of it.
These disappointing results show that safety has now become collateral damage in Renault’s transition to electric cars
Michiel van Ratingen, Secretary General of Euro NCAP
‘As a result, the safety of occupants within the vehicle has been severely impacted.’
Euro NCAP said the removal of the airbag had ‘ruined the Renault Laguna’s legacy’.
The Renault Zoe was originally tested by Euro NCAP in 2013, where it achieved a five-star rating.
Removal of the vital airbag and other key passive safety features means the Zoe ‘has been left far behind the standard achieved by most carmakers in 2021’, UK-based vehicle safety expert, Thatcham Research, says.
‘The adult occupant score of 43 per cent for the Renault Zoe is the lowest we have seen in 11 years,’ Avery adds.
‘Overall, carmakers today consistently achieve good ratings in impact testing, despite Euro NCAP raising the bar to ensure the programme remains the most safety-focused in the world.
‘It’s a shame to see Renault threaten a safety pedigree built from the inception of the rating.’
What makes the result especially disappointing is that Renault was the first car maker to score five stars in Euro NCAP tests some 20 years ago. Euro NCAP said safety had become collateral damage in its transition to EVs
When replicating a ‘frontal offset’ crash, the Zoe was also found to provide weak protection for the chest area of a driver.
Euro NCAP’s safety review of the Zoe also identified a lack of active safety technology commonly fitted as standard in most new vehicles.
What is Euro NCAP?
Euro NCAP crash tests around 100 cars every year to provide customers info about how safe popular models are
Euro NCAP – which stands for European New Car Assessment Programme – has been crash testing cars since 1996.
It is an independent body funded by organisations from seven countries, including three from Britain; the Department for Transport, Thatcham Research and International Consumer Research and Testing.
The aim of the tests is to rate popular mainstream models for their abilities to protect occupants (both adult and children) as well as other vehicles, pedestrians and road users if collisions occur, testing a range of different crash sequences to put each car through a rigorous assessment.
By publishing safety ratings and data for cars tested over several decades, new and used car buyers can gauge the protective qualities of models they’re considering buying.
It crash tests over 100 cars a year, destroying a number of versions of the same model that are provided by the manufacturer for assessment purposes.
Euro NCAP regularly tightens its testing and ratings to take into account new technologies – such as Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) – meaning a five-star car in 2021 is far safer than a five-star car tested a decade earlier.
The latest rating system is split between four categories: Adult Occupant; Child Occupant, Vulnerable Road User; Safety Assist.
The three former categories are protective ratings while the latter is a score for the quality – and amount – of assisted safety kit available.
This includes Lane Departure Warnings – which has been shown to have a lower involvement rate in fatal crashes by up to 86 per cent – and standard-fit Autonomous Emergency Braking, which is one of the most important recent developments in car safety which has been shown to reduce front-to-rear crashes with injuries by 56 per cent.
The result was a 14 per cent score in the Safety Assist category – 61 per cent lower than the average (75 per cent) achieved by car makers in the same category this year.
Avery said the French marque had forced buyers to ‘trade off safety for zero emissions’.
He added: ‘Motorists can still save the planet and enjoy a car that could play a vital role in saving their family in the event of a crash.
‘There are many other options of a similar price and size that have achieved solid ratings and feature a host of active safety systems as standard too.’
Mail Online and This is Money approached Renault UK for comment on the Zoe’s zero crash test rating.
An official response states: ‘Renault takes note of the results published by Euro NCAP following specific tests on Zoe E-Tech Electric according to its new protocol implemented in 2020.
‘Renault reaffirms that Zoe E-Tech Electric is a safe vehicle, which complies with all regulatory safety standards.
‘These standards are constantly evolving and are becoming more stringent in all domains, especially in safety.
‘Renault therefore continually improves its offer in order to comply with the regulations applicable where its vehicles are sold.
‘Zoe was launched in 2013 and received five stars with Euro NCAP protocol at that time. The EuroNCAP protocol has since 2013 undergone five changes.
‘With the same equipment, a model can lose up to two stars in each protocol change.
‘The evolution of the current Zoe was decided in 2017 adapting the passive safety equipment to real accidentology and updating the car with state of the art ADAS [Advanced Driver Assist Systems] equipment such as Advanced Emergency Braking with Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection, Lane Departure Alert and Lane Keeping Assist, using a radar and a camera.’
The Zoe now officially joins the Fiat Punto (tested in 2017) and Panda (tested in 2018) as scoring zero stars in Euro NCAP crash tests.
One-star crash test rating for Dacia’s first EV
Dacia, which is owned by Renault, is another car maker to see poor performance in the final round of Euro NCAP safety testing this year.
The Spring, its Sandero-sized crossover that’s availability is yet to be confirmed for the UK, obtained a one-star rating in Euro NCAP tests.
An Adult Occupant Protection score of just 49 per cent represented poor and weak protection across several areas of the crash test dummies used for the collision simulations, which could result in life-threatening injuries in a real-life crash scenario.
However, it should be noted that the Dacia is fitted with the airbag that had been removed from the new Renault Zoe, which protects against head injury in side impacts.
The Renault Spring – a compact SUV that’s not yet confirmed for the UK market – scored a lowly one-star rating in the latest round of crash tests on new vehicles
An Adult Occupant Protection score of just 49 per cent represented poor and weak protection across several areas of the crash test dummies used for the collision simulations
The Dacia Spring is estimated to retail at around €17,000 in Europe. That means it could be priced from approximately £14,500 in Britain, if bosses decide to sell it here from 2022
The Spring also had a low 56 per cent rating for Child Occupant Protection.
Avery explained: ‘The six-year-old dummy had weak protection, suggesting the forces of a crash could end in serious neck and head injuries.
‘This is anything but a safe family car, despite being marketed as a good option for families.’
Michiel van Ratingen, Secretary General of Euro NCAP, said: ‘These disappointing results for the Zoe and Dacia Spring show that safety has now become collateral damage in Renault’s transition to electric cars.’
He added: ‘Not only do these cars fail to offer any appreciable active safety as standard, but their occupant protection is also worse than any vehicle we have seen in many years.
‘It is cynical to offer the consumer an affordable green car if it comes at the price of higher injury risk in the event of an accident.
‘Other cars have shown that safety does not need to be sacrificed for environmental cleanliness.’
The Dacia Spring is estimated to retail at around €17,000 in Europe, before the government grant is factored in. That means it could be priced from approximately £14,500 in Britain, if bosses decide to sell it here from 2022.
Euro NCAP crash test results have also been revealed for a further nine models.
The BMW iX, Genesis G70 and GV70, Mercedes-Benz EQS, Nissan Qashqai (built in Sunderland), Skoda Fabia, and VW Caddy all achieve five-stars with good active and passive safety performances.
The Fiat 500e and MG Marvel R were given four-star ratings.
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