The history of Chinese cars in Europe is not without its bumps in the road, most notably in terms of their safety record. And Germany’s automobile club ADAC has been on the forefront of making sure consumers are being made aware of what they’re getting into. Who doesn’t remember the shocking images of the Jiangling Landwind crash test the ADAC carried out in 2005 or that of the Brilliance BS6 two years later? Both cars had a short-lived career in Europe as buyers who initially had been attracted by the seemingly great value for money, were put off by fears of their safety after a possible crash. The Chinese manufacturers withdrew to their home turf with their tails between their legs, never to return. Fast forward more than a decade, and some other Chinese manufacturers have gathered enough courage to try again. This time they’re convinced their vehicles are up to the challenge with European car buyers and regulators, and they’re planning to do so with electric cars.
Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation, manufacturing partner of both Volkswagen and General Motors in China, has been exporting cars under its MG brand to the United Kingdom since 2009 but waited until 2019 to expand its operations to mainland Europe, with its all-electric crossover MG ZS. Other Chinese startups and established manufacturers have launched ambitious plans to storm the European EV market with very modern vehicles that can easily compete with those of the major European brands in terms of design, technology and safety. This way, brands like Nio, Aiways and Xpeng (pictured) are hoping to change the image of Chinese cars in the eyes of European consumers and become world players. However, a small and rather unknown EV maker may have just set back those dreams by proving not all manufacturers are up to the challenge.
The Suda SA01 EV has just launched in Germany at a price of just over € 10,000 after state subsidies for electric vehicles, which makes it one of the cheapest vehicles currently on the market, and the ADAC has slammed the car for major deficits in terms of quality and driving characteristics as well as the absence of passive safety systems. The SA01 has no airbags, no Electronic Stability Program (ESP), no emergency brakes or lane departure warning systems and not even seat belt tensioners. The German automobile club is critical of how a vehicle that doesn’t meet modern safety standards is even allowed to be sold in the European Union. A loophole in the rules allows the Suda SA01 to be sold in the EU because it received its type approval as part of a small series license, which is intended to give small manufacturers like Morgan and Donkervoort a break from having to develop costly custom safety systems and following expensive testing procedures for vehicles that sell fewer than 1,000 units in Europe, while expecting them to take their own responsibility in terms of safety standards. As long as Suda sells just a small batch of the SA01 in Europe (200 units were shipped initially), it doesn’t need to meet modern safety standards. And the downside of that quickly becomes apparent when the ADAC puts the small Chinese EV to the test. It turns out to be a major safety risk.
“Basic safety equipment is completely missing, which becomes particularly evident in the crash test of an offset frontal collision at 64 km/h (40 mph). During this test, the driver’s head and chest hit the steering wheel hard, which in a real world crash would lead to very serious injuries. The passenger would suffer injuries to their knees and legs because of inadequate structural integrities in the dashboard. There are no driver or passenger front airbags nor side airbags in the seats, while the non-existent seat belt tensioners also had a negative impact.”
The pictures after the crash speak for themselves: the steering wheel has moved far into the cabin and the passenger cell has buckled in such a way that the driver’s door can no longer be opened. After the ADAC crash test, the fire brigade has to lend a hand to rescue occupants. In addition, the Suda does not have any protective devices with which the rescue workers can switch off the EV’s high-voltage system, which means rescue workers are at risk of electric shock. Both the hard to open doors and the risk of electric shock result in longer response times for emergency teams to rescue the occupants after a crash.
Even in braking and evasive tests, the Suda has no chance compared to other modern cars. From about 70 km/h (44 mph) the vehicle skidded out of control during the evasive test and could no longer be kept in check by the driver because it lacks an ESP system. Most modern cars with this technology will pass the test with over 90 km/h (56 mph) without breaking a sweat. The brake pedal lacks feedback and the very long braking distance of 42 meters on average from 100 km/h to full stop also does not exactly contribute to its safety record.
In terms of EV charging capabilities, the Suda can’t keep up with current rivals either. A promised range of around 200 km on a single charge is adequate, but the the lack of fast charging capabilities reduce its usability in real life. The only positive remark ADAC could come up with is that the SA01 has ample room for luggage and passengers and the vehicle is easy to operate.
“The manufacturer abuses the simplified type approval for small series to bring a vehicle to the market that has clear deficits in active and passive safety. From our point of view, manufacturers of small-series vehicles should always benchmark themselves to current standards of industry. If the manufacturer doesn’t take responsibility for the safety of its vehicles, we urgently encourage the legislator to close this legal loophole by improving the type approval process. And finally we consider state subsidies of € 9,000 for a vehicle at Suda’s safety level to be an undesirable use of government funds.”
Not only the automobile club and European consumers should be worried that a vehicle that doesn’t meet modern safety standards can so easily be sold. Suda also does other Chinese manufacturers a disservice, as this ADAC report could set back the image of Chinese cars by a decade. The video of the Suda’s crash test shows its safety score has not improved on that of the Landwind or the BS6 more than 10 years ago. Nio, Xpeng, Aiways and other brands will now have to work twice as hard to convince European car buyers that not all Chinese cars are created equal and that they in fact are up to standards.
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