Bargain basement utes sold by Great Wall Motors and Proton have scored poorly in the latest round of crash testing by the independent authority, the Australian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP).
The tests also highlighted a possible defect in one of the Great Wall vehicles whose passenger seatbelt failed to operate correctly -- but so far the distributor has refused to conduct a safety recall.
The Malaysian-made Proton Jumbuck, at $14,990 one of Australia's cheapest utility vehicles and advertised as "the toughest little half-tonner in town", scored just one star out of five.
The Proton has been on sale locally since 2003 but is effectively a 1990s hand-me-down design from Mitsubishi built under licence by Proton and is not equipped with airbags.
The fitment of airbags made little difference to the result of the Great Wall utes, both of which scored just two stars.
The Chinese maker has two models available: the $19,990 SA220 ute which is an older design and is not equipped with airbags, and the $23,990 V240 ute which is a newer design and is equipped with airbags.
Both scored two stars out of five because the airbags in the newer vehicle did little to prevent the driver dummy head from striking the steering wheel.
As the photo of the impact shows, there is so much deformation that the driver dummy head comes into contact with the centre of the hub.
There was further bad news for the V240: the front passenger's seatbelt retractor broke at the peak of the crash and the seatbelt reeled out without any restriction. This pushed the dummy's head deep into the passenger airbag until it struck the dashboard. There were also severe leg injuries.
ANCAP Chair Lauchlan McIntosh said the result was disappointing especially given that the Great Wall vehicles were new to the market. "The V240 has dual airbags but these failed to protect the driver and passenger from injury in our crash tests," he said.
However, McIntosh stopped short of calling for a safety recall for the vehicle whose seatbelt retractor failed and said it was a matter for Federal authorities to enforce or the Australian Automobile Association to encourage.
"Safety recalls are a matter for the Department of Transport," McIntosh told the Carsales Network last night. "We have advised them about the seatbelt retractor malfunction and it is up to them to make that call."
McIntosh added: "The test was such that even without the seatbelt retractor failure the results wouldn't have been much different."
McIntosh said the test was a good example of why there needed to be independent checking of vehicle safety.
All vehicles on sale locally must meet Australian Design Rules but ANCAP has expressed concern about the widening gap between the Federal Government's minimum safety standards and ANCAP tests, which are more severe.
"New vehicles that achieve only a 1 or 2 star ANCAP rating -- while meeting the ADRs -- are a cause for concern," he said.
The Australian Automobile Association's director of technical services, Craig Newland, told the Carsales Network the AAA would "look at the data to get a full understanding of the situation before commenting on whether there should be a safety recall or not".
A spokesman for the Commonwealth Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government said: "The Department is in contact with the Australian distributor for Great Wall who has advised that the failed part has been returned and analysed by the manufacturer. At this point it appears that the failure is an isolated case, however further analysis and testing is being conducted both in China and Australia."
The spokesman said the Department was still considering its options.
The distributors of Great Wall vehicles could conduct a recall of their own volition and it would be a relatively easy exercise given that only about 600 vehicles have been sold in the past few months, about 400 of which are the potentially affected V240 model.
A statement from the local distributors of Great Wall Motors said: "Vehicle safety is a top priority for the Great Wall Motor Company, a fact demonstrated by the presence of a senior Great Wall safety engineer at the recent ANCAP tests, and the company's ongoing multi-million dollar investment in its own state-of-the-art crash test facility.
"Great Wall safety engineers have been hard at work analysing data from the recent ANCAP tests from the moment it was made available, and are confident that Great Wall will continue to make significant progress with enhancements to the safety of their products."
Meanwhile Proton has complained that ANCAP tested a car that is about to be discontinued.
Proton Australia boss John Statari told the Carsales Network that there is less than six months supply of the vehicle.
"We didn't attend the crash test because there was nothing to gain from it. The model is finished," he said.
Proton had told ANCAP for the past 12 months that the Jumbuck was about to be superseded. Proton denies this was a delaying tactic to avoid testing of the vehicle. To retain independence, ANCAP purchases its vehicles from dealerships and chooses the cars from a random selection.
"Car buyers only get one chance at safety, that's why we do random tests," McIntosh said. "The Jumbuck is a popular, affordable model. We have had the Jumbuck on the agenda for some time. Manufacturers collectively are always suggesting they might have another model coming. When we see another model we'll test it."
ANCAP says crash statistics from Monash University show that occupants of 1 or 2 stars vehicles have twice the risk of receiving life-threatening injuries in a crash compared with occupants of 4 or 5-star vehicles.
ANCAP is funded by all Australian and New Zealand motoring clubs, all Australian state governments, the New Zealand government, the Victorian Transport Accident Commission, NRMA Insurance and the FIA Foundation.
See the results for yourself: www.ancap.com.au