A few years ago, Hans-Ulrich Sachs, a former Volkswagen board member, had a brilliant idea: He wanted to import Chinese Brilliance cars. Brilliance is BMW’s joint venture partner in China. Brilliance also makes their homegrown cars—which kind of look like a Bimmer, if you don’t look closely enough. The plan: Import them to Germany, and sell them for half of what a real Bimmer costs. A plan that couldn’t fail except that it failed miserably: A few months before the launch of the car at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the ADAC (the German equivalent of the AAA) crash tested the car supposedly under EURO-NCAP conditions. The car received one measly star. The video landed on YouTube, and Brilliance was done. Thousands of Brilliance cars already were in Bremerhaven, ready for sale. A marketing consultant, asked what to do, recommended: “Load them back on the boat and head for the biggest hurricane you can find.” A few days ago, ADAC tested a new Brilliance car. Now, all Brilliance can hope for is an earthquake. Or a sympathetic judge. This test could go to the courts.
The ADAC tested the new Brilliance BS4, and it failed miserably – at least according to ADAC’s press release: The car received exactly zero stars. It’s not that Brilliance was asleep at the wheel. Actually, the car was significantly improved over the model tested a few years ago. However, European regulators also weren’t snoozing either. In the meantime, the Euro-NCAP standard had been toughened-up. Last November, TTAC warned, “Next year, Euro NCAP will use a new, more stringent method. Cars without ESP won’t stand a chance to receive 5 stars. Seats will receive special attention.” Says the ADAC: “The reason for the missing stars is the new rating system with more stringent standards. Apart from passenger safety, safety of children, and safety of pedestrians, electronic assistance systems are part of the test. Due to a lack of ESP, safety belt warner and speed limiter, the BS4 received zero stars.”
A call to a goverment accredited NCAP expert in Germany revealed that the ADAC has most likely grossly overreached. According to the new Euro NCAP rules, a car without ESP is not eligible for five stars. But it is not automatically disqualified. It could get 4 stars. ESP is not mandatory yet in the EU, there is a push to make it mandatory. However, ESP is not expected to become law before 2011, possibly not even before 2014. The ADAC release concedes: “According to the old standard, the car would have received three stars.” The BS4 was introduced in October 2008, while the old standard was in effect.
The test may not even have been an official Euro-NCAP test. ADAC simply says that the test was performed “according to the new Euro-NCAP norm, which is in effect since February 2009.” HSO Motors Europe, the official importer of the Brilliance states that the test “was not requested by the official Euro NCAP organization in Brussels.” In fact, Brilliance is not listed under the Euro-NCAP test results, neither according to the new rules nor according to the old rules.
Euro-NCAP itself says that its tests have zero legal bearing: “All vehicles sold within the EU must meet the requirements of European Whole Vehicle Type Approval. Type approval is the process where a car is shown to meet all of the requirements of European legislation regarding safety, emissions, noise etc. The frontal and side impact crash tests used by Euro NCAP are based on those used in European legislation. However, much higher performance requirements are used by Euro NCAP. The frontal impact speed used by Euro NCAP is 64 km/h compared 56 km/h for legislation.”
There is a scandal brewing, and the ADAC possibly has NSFWed up.