India auto makers remain divided on safety of quadricycles

Thursday 25 April 2013, 09:57 AM by

The issue of rolling out quadricycles such as Bajaj RE60 in India has sparked off a safety debate on their feasibility. Some auto manufacturers who build entry level cars state that these quadricycles should have to pass the same noise and safety tests, as is true for cars such as Tata Nano. On the other hand, few manufacturers also feel that the norms for these vehicles should be more than three-wheelers and less than four wheelers, since these are placed between the two. Interestingly, there is no official word from automobile governing body Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) on this issue.

This debate about quadriciycles was also out in the open ten years ago, when similar differences of opinion were observed. Commenting on the same, TVS Motor chairman Venu Srinivasan said, "Ten years ago we had proposed the definition of a class of vehicles called quadricycles, which was opposed by Maruti and Bajaj on the basis of safety. Three wheelers rarely go beyond 40 km an hour and they rarely go on highways. Three wheeler fatalities in India are very low. On the other hand, a vehicle like the quadricycle will go everywhere because it essentially looks like a car. We did not pursue the quadricycle back then since we decided not to enter the four-wheeler business. But since then, one development has changed the rules of the game — the Tatas have revolutionized the low cost safe car with the Nano. So the minimum quadricycle definition should meet Nano standards. The Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) in the UK says in its report that quadricycle fatalities are 14 times higher than a car. I believe if any quadricycle is allowed, it must meet the noise and safety standards of a car.”

The TRL study done in 2009 on L category vehicles that include motorcycles, three wheelers and quadricycles for the European Commission concluded that quadricycles are responsible for fatality rates 10 times more than cars in France and Austria. The main reason behind this is lower safety measures for head-on and side collisions. On the other hand, organisations that support the quadricycle have a different opinion. A top auto industry executive stated, “Quadricycles are considered safer than three-wheelers but it will need to be seen what kind of applications they are put to and whether the new category gives car makers the option of downgrading an entry level M1 car into a quadricycle.” The entire issue, in reality, depends on what kind of requirements these vehicles are made to address.

During an accident where occupants of a three wheeler were injured on a highway after their vehicle collided with a truck, a committee was set up to ascertain the safety of three wheelers by Government of India. The case also involved compensation for the injured, after which this committee was created. A presentation was made to this committee on July 10, 2012 to promote safety by permitting quadricycles in urban areas.

It is clear that whether a decision is made in favour of quadricycles or against, manufacturers will always be divided on the same. However, it is bound to take a long time for a positive judgement on quadricycles to be passed, but whenever it happens, companies must keep the passengers' safety foremost in mind, while designing such vehicles.

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