Thursday, June 28, 2007

Death Wish? Buy a Brilliance BS6

Last week, photos and video started circulating online of the horrific crash test results of the Chinese Brilliance BS6 sedan. The car was tested using the well-recognized Euro-NCAP (New Car Assessment Program) offset frontal crash test at 40 miles per hour by ADAC, a German auto club.

In cars that ace these tests, the passenger compartment stays almost completely intact with no intrusion of the floor into the driver's footwell or the instrument panel into the driver's face. The best cars often still have functioning driver's doors, yet sacrifice so much of their front end absorbing the crash energy that the occupants get out of the car relatively unscathed.

Instead, the poorly-named Brilliance BS6 saw the pedals intrude into the driver's space by 18 inches, and the dashboard by 7 inches. The driver's door wouldn't open without the technicians using a huge crowbar, and the rocker panel bent almost 90 degrees, stopped only when it hit the floor. The base of the windshield moved to the same vertical plane as the top of the windshield was before the crash, and the driver was left sharing space with steering wheels, windshields, and the front end of the car. He or she would have almost certainly been killed instantly.

ADAC also tested another BS6 for side impact protection (this is also in the video linked above). In this test, the side impact cart intruded past the width of the door into the passenger compartment (over 12 inches) and whipped the driver's head so severely that he would have almost certainly been killed.

Naturally, the car earned the minimum rating, one star, on a five-star scale.

If you're keeping score at home, Chinese vehicles undergoing western crash tests have both failed miserably (the earlier being the Landwind SUV, which fared so poorly it was withdrawn from the European market).

So far, the Luxembourg-based distributor for the BS6, HSO Motors, has sold 350 of the €19,000 cars, and has said that dealers should offer to repurchase the cars from owners who are concerned about its crashworthiness. However, one dealer quoted in Automotive News said, "For price-conscious customers who are careful drivers, this safety issue does not have priority." He also said that he would continue selling the car.

Great - so if you're sure you won't be in an accident, you're OK in a Brilliance. But I always thought that most accidents sort of happened, you know, accidentally. I've been in two of them in 16 years of driving, and I didn't plan them ahead of time. I really didn't expect them to happen, frankly. Sometimes, they're unavoidable.

For its part, the manufacturer doesn't believe that the poor crash test results will hurt sales. The company also accused the German media of "viciously playing up" the ADAC test results. Brilliance also said that they agreed to cooperate with ADAC on the BS6's safety, and expect the car to earn three stars within a year. Brilliance also would like to find a partner to help it crack the US market, and said in April that it would like to sell cars in the US, including the BS6, no later than early 2008.

Personally, I don't plan to set foot in a Chinese car that will be moving (I'd feel reasonably safe in one in a static display at an auto show) until I'm convinced that the safety of these vehicles has improved to modern standards. I'd take a good used car - or a new Renault/Dacia Logan/Nissan Aprio - any day over a Chinese car with questionable occupant protection capabilities. But, if you have a death wish, you can always buy one of these and drive into an offset barrier at 40 miles per hour. You won't be around to tell us about it.

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