What’s a Mexican Life Worth? $200, According to Car Makers

How much is a Mexican life worth to car manufacturers such as Nissan, General Motors and Volkswagen? It turns out to be less than $200 dollars. That’s the cost of fitting out a car with basic but lifesaving safety features, features that are included as standard in the United States and emerging markets such as Brazil and India. But not in Mexico.

By Rebecca Conan and cross-posted from El Daily Post

“Picture a typical car manufacturing plant in Mexico where you have two assembly lines,” the long-time U.S. consumer advocate Ralph Nader said at a recent press conference calling for the end of automobiles with sub-standard safety features. “One assembly line is for export and has all the safety standards. The other line is for the Mexicans, whose lives aren’t worth as much.”

He was referring to the fact that cars sold in Mexico are held to much lower safety standards than those sold abroad. They are, as a result, less safe and more deadly in case of an accident.

Take, for example, the Nissan Tsuru, for many years the highest-selling car in Mexico and a favorite of the nation’s taxi drivers. It is such an unsafe car that its sale is illegal in the United States.

The Tsuru was involved in at least 4,000 deaths in Mexico between 2007 and 2012, according to the crash test organization Latin NCAP. For every 1,000 accidents involving a Tsuru, there are 18 deaths. Compare that with any Peugeot model, with an average of less than one (0.82) death per 1,000 accidents.

Here’s another way of looking at it. NCAP rates cars on a scale of zero to five stars based on their performance in a frontal crash test. The test specifically looks at whether impact causes any part of the car to come into contact with either the driver or front passenger as well as any child sitting in the back of the car. A car that secures a five-star rating is considered to perform well in crash protection.

The Tsuru’s star rating is zero, which means loss of life or serious injury is likely if it’s involved in a crash at 65 kilometers (40 miles) per hour. The General Motors Aveo, which has taken over from the Tsuru as the most popular car in Mexico, is also zero-star.

The Tsuru has such little structural integrity that even an airbag would not improve its safety, according to Global NCAP’s secretary general David Ward. “It’s astonishing that a vehicle like that is being sold,” he said at the recent press conference.

Other cars that rate poorly in NCAP’s tests include the Nissan Tiida, General Motors’ Matiz and Volkswagen’s Gol. The fact that none of these cars has an airbag has failed to dent their sales within Mexico but they are not available for sale in the United States or Europe because they don’t meet minimum safety standards.

“That’s more than a double standard,” Nader said. “That is knowing and willful reduction of lifesaving technology in cars for a population that is more vulnerable as it doesn’t have the protection of regulation as we do in the United States”

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