National Consumers League

U.S. consumer groups slam GM for failing to put safety technologies in cars sold in developing countries

December 11, 2015

Washington, DC—Four national consumer advocacy organizations – Consumers Union, Public Citizen, Advocates For Highway and Auto Safety, and National Consumers League – are asking General Motors CEO Mary Barra to address the glaring absence of basic safety equipment – like seat belts – in GM cars sold in Latin American in a letter sent this week. The letter stated:

“We were surprised and disappointed to learn of the poor performance of General Motors (GM) in auto safety tests conducted by the New Car Assessment Programme for Latin America and the Caribbean (Latin NCAP). These results are directly related to GM’s failure to provide the same safety technologies on cars sold in Latin America as the company provides as standard equipment in cars sold in the US market. We are specifically referring to basic safety features, such as airbags, but also newer life-saving technologies like electronic stability control and pre-tensioned seat belts, all of which are fitted as standard on GM vehicles in the US.”

The American consumer groups’ letter came in response to the Nov. 16 release of crash test safety results by the New Car Assessment Programme for Latin America and the Carribbean (Latin NCAP). In those tests, GM’s Chevrolet Aveo, the best-selling car in Mexico that is sold throughout Latin America, scored zero stars for protecting adults and only two stars for protecting child passengers. Latin NCAP described the model as demonstrating a “high risk of life-threatening injuries.”

Latin NCAP tested the basic version of the Aveo, which is sold in Latin America without airbags. Despite recent commitments from GM to become an industry leader on safety, Chevrolet has performed consistently poorly in Latin NCAP tests over a number of years, and ranks 8th out of 11 leading car manufacturers in the region. Only three Chinese brands averaged worse scores over a five-year period of Latin NCAP tests.

The groups’ letter noted: 

“Auto safety cannot only be for citizens living in wealthy countries; yet GM’s practice of providing some consumers with the best safety technologies, while not even providing airbags to others, strikes us as a morally indefensible decision.”  …. [I]n your capacity as CEO you have stated your commitment to auto safety technologies and doing right by consumers, and we think this is an issue that deserves your attention.”

The four American groups are aligned with Consumers International (CI) in calling for universal adoption of minimum United Nations Vehicle safety regulations by governments and voluntary compliance by car manufacturers as soon as possible. Cars scoring zero in NCAP tests fail these internationally recognized minimum safety standards.

Research commissioned by Global NCAP found that more than 380,000 deaths and serious injuries could be prevented by 2030 in Brazil alone if it adopted key UN regulations within a reasonable timeframe.

According to the World Health Organization:

  • 1.3 million people died and 50 million people were injured on roads in 2013. Unsafe cars are a major contributor to this statistic. Fifty percent of those affected were vehicle occupants. This disparity in access to safety technologies has real consequences, and contributes to unacceptable burden of road crash deaths and injuries highlighted by the World Health Organization and referenced by Consumers International in its letter. 
  • Road traffic deaths are now the 9th biggest killer globally, and are predicted to become the 7th biggest killer worldwide by 2030 unless urgent action is taken.

The groups also told Barra, “As CEO, you can demonstrate to all consumers concern for their safety and play a leading role in ensuring all vehicles comply with these safety standards regardless of where they are sold.” 

Photos of the test results are included below. 

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America's pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.