By on March 28, 2009

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.

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20 Comments on “Brilliance Turned Into Meteorite – Intentionally?...”

  • avatar

    I wonder if Obama would prefer that all cars crumple like this and got better mpg, or if he’d rather them pork up with reinforced steel and get the same MPG as a Model T.

    I wonder if anyone has ever done a modern side impact crash test with a Model T.

  • avatar

    Huh? Safe cars and good mpg aren’t exclusive……

  • avatar

    On topic: you get what you pay for. If you want a BMW you can’t expect to get it for half the price. there is a lot of research necessary to make car safe, reliable, etc. lots of sophisticated manufacturing technology needed. Laserwelding, etc.

    Off topic: since some here use a crash test to bash Obama… you very well can have a save car with good mpg at a reasonable price. the Prius can be had for $22K, has excellent crashtest rating and mileage. With good engineering both are possible to some extent. SUVs on the other hand are worse in crashes when hitting solid fixed objects (because they are stirdier they don’t “sacrifice themselves for the passengers”) and tip over faster and drive less stable – at worse mileage.
    On Obama: the car bailout (if it really comes true) is the almost only decision he has made so far I completely disagree with. Most other things he has done in so little time bring this country forward. As i remember Bush had the chance to pull the plug in December. After all he didn’t have anything to lose anymore and could have done one single good thing in his career. Let’s wait some days to see what the official “loan” will be. I’m sure I wion’t like it. but too early for any bashing. You also have to consider that the President can’t just make decisions. There is congress and senate and both are loaded with Republican and Democrat nuts. none of them interested in the country, only in their state or district. none of them cares about the future beyond the next election.

  • avatar

    I find the 0 star rating too harsh to say the least. The auto clubs that co-funded the test with ADAC, ie. ANWB (Dutch), TCS (Swiss) and OAMTC (Austrian) unanimously gave the BS 4 a 3-star rating.

    It’s just extremely weird when a car with 3 star front impact rating, 4 star side impact rating receives zero stars. ESP is worth 3 points in the EuroNCAP, out of some 129.

    Calling shenanigans, defamation and agendas.

  • avatar

    analyst: I’m not 100% sure about the new NABCEP rules and how they came up with 0. Obviously crash-avoidance plays a big role (ESP) in safety. I also think 0 sounds extreme. Under the old rules the Volvo, Mercedes, VW.. often had 5 stars. The Kias, Citroen had 3 stars, and the “fake” Chinese cars had even less. maybe 1-2. deduct ESP and some other active features and you might come up with 0.
    Anyway, cars like that should not be build. Waste or resources. I hope those will never be legal in where I live. (I have the same unjustified hope for those non-maintained 15 year old Ghetto cars driving around, especially since here in WI liability insurance is not mandatory…)

  • avatar

    Analyst is right. I talked in the meantime to a ranking safety expert in Germany, and he confirmed that a missing ESP is no reason for zero stars. The text has been amended accordingly. The press statement issued by the ADAC is clearly wrong.

  • avatar

    After watching that I can’t wait for the first Chinese-built Bimmers. Boy, howdie!

  • avatar

    While I can possibly see ESP having some bearing on safety ratings, it shouldn’t be on the crash rating, and seatbelt warning chimes and speed limiters should have absolutely no place whatsoever. Perhaps a seperate ‘safety rating’ is needed from the ‘crash test rating’, as ESP/Stability Control could help with safety, but I mainly want to know how much of a chance I have of not being injured if the car crashes, not how well the car might avoid a crash.

  • avatar

    “Load them back on the boat and head for the biggest hurricane you can find.”

    Or ship them to Vegas for the long walk into the Desert.

  • avatar

    ACAC and final rating evaluation / rating aside, the Brilliance car shown testing here clearly did better than the first ACAC tested Brilliance, which folded over itself in a front end collision.

    The Brilliance product is improving, and if Brilliance stays focused about Euro and USA markets, their next revision will get higher ACAC ratings.

    Don’t forget pre-Safety standard versions of other cars also folded up from front end collisions. Some still do.

  • avatar

    I like the Obama bashing part!

  • avatar

    I am very upset with this:

  • avatar

    analyst: you know, China is a communist country with propaganda ministry?
    Anyway, any car with less than 4 stars should not even be legal. Regular sized cars like the VW Golf achieve 5 stars. No reason to have significantly less.

    At least the Chines learned one thing, it is not so easy to reverse engineer a car by just copying it…

  • avatar

    @kaleun: I meant that I am upset with this whole thing, and hence, I wrote that. I assure you it’s not CCP propaganda. Just me, baffled by ADAC.

    Yes, 3 stars is not brilliant, but it is at least sound. 0 stars implies no safety whatsoever, and that is scary for most consumers. There is a number of European made cars that have ratings similar or worse than the ones the BS4 achieved.

    Check Euro NCAP’s official website and look for Chevrolet, Fiat, and possibly some others. They have even some 2-star rated cars.

  • avatar

    Anyway, any car with less than 4 stars should not even be legal. Regular sized cars like the VW Golf achieve 5 stars. No reason to have significantly less.

    I disagree with this strongly. While I think that displaying safety ratings should be mandatory, I also think that customers should have the right to make the choice to sacrifice safety in a vehicle for other concerns (whether they be performance, price, or whatever else) if they so choose. As long as the risks are known, why shouldn’t someone be able to purchase a vehicle that may kill them in an impact if they so choose?

  • avatar
    Mark G Eros

    Yo, Holydonut

    “I wonder if anyone has ever done a modern side impact crash test with a Model T.”

    It would be interesting to watch that in slow-mo’.

    As a muscle-car obsessed young man I worked for a year in an automobile restoration shop. They hired me for my cabinet-making experience over my mechanical skills which surprised me. The shop dealt mainly in 1914 to 1940 era vehicles. The owner explained that the older cars had wood-framed bodies with the sheetmetal nailed onto the wood. And dash and floor boards were, literal boards. Horse-drawn technology. It was fun, I learned a lot about those primitive vehicles.

    Essentially, when you ride in a Model T, your side impact protection is provided by furniture.
    And that’s not very reassuring.

  • avatar

    @Kaleun: As far as I can tell, China has no Propaganda Ministry per se – which doesn’t preclude it from doing public relations just like any other country.

    HOWEVER: While I don’t know who is behind the i3china site (the domain is registered anonymously, the site is hosted by Google in Mountain View, CA) it clearly isn’t any government propaganda arm. Reason? The site is BLOCKED in China.

    The German Magazine Focus – definitely not a Chinese propaganda arm, voices “doubts about the procedure. ”

    The magazine points out:

    – Euro NCAP is not an official standard. The rating is not relevant for a car being legal in Europe or not. Manufacturers voluntarily submit their cars to the test – devised by manufacturers and consumer protection organizations.
    – The timeline “makes you wonder.” The BS4 was introduced in Europe in October 2008 while the old Euro NCAP rules were in effect. Under these rules, it would have received 3 stars. How come the ADAC finds it necessary to test a car introduced last year according to a standard introduced in February this year?
    – The magazine says “To the unsuspecting buyer, the zero stars suggest an absolutely unsafe car – which the BS4 definitely isn’t. It doesn’t crash brilliantly, but solidly.”

    This jibes with my independent weekend research, performed with the assistance of a German car testing lab. They called the test “irrelevant.”

    Actually, it smacks of a clumsy propaganda exercise by definitely non-Chinese interests.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Maybe Brilliance should really take a look into TTAC every now and then.

    We wrote about the new criteria in August 2008,

    Obviously, the goalposts are moving on and any maker who complains that he was hoping to be judged by old testing criteria is naive.

    ESP or not, the Brilliance is not up to date when you compare it to other cars being sold for 16k Euros. Testers cited floor pans ripping near the driver’s feet, pedals intruding (and potentially braking bones), and a poorly positioned airbag.

  • avatar

    The car was imported to Germany in October 2008, 4 months before the new Euro-NCAP regs came into effect. The floor pans and pedals gave it the well deserved three stars. Even under the new rules, the missing ESP should not be a reason for zero stars.

    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.” One indication: Brilliance is not listed under the Euro-NCAP test results, neither according to the new rules nor according to the old rules.

    The Brilliance is legal under the regulations of the European Whole Vehicle Type Approval. Euro-NCAP has no legal bearing.

    The ADAC (which is in bed with German manufacturers) is on a jihad against Chinese cars. It was behind (or the front for) the infamous Landwind test which is rumored to have occurred under dubious circumstances. The club targeted Brilliance, and this time resorted to highly questionable practices. The club even boasts: “China dares to make first steps on the European auto market. Without success, which is mostly due to the catastrophic results during the ADAC crash tests.”

    If I’d be Sachs, I’d sue.

  • avatar

    This car performed A LOT better than the first one. The first crash test I saw… people didn’t have a chance at surviving.

    I think that people will get sued. Badly. And deserved too.

    Pa’ que sean serios.

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