Inside the industry: New safety rules make cars more expensive

Intelligent speed assistance graphic

Every new car will soon impose intelligent speed assistance

New regulations introduced this year will cut into the already thin margins on affordable cars

GSR2: It sounds innocent enough. Even when fully spelled out as General Safety Regulations 2. Or even when explained as a list of 18 safety features that new cars must have in order to comply with regulations arriving in three stages: in 2022, 2024 and 2026.

Examples in the initial phase include mandator blindspot-monitoring systems, driver-drowsiness detection and intelligent speed assistance, all there to lend a hand should the statistically weakest link in the mobility chain – the person as the wheel, said to account for 90% of incidents – slips up.

Who can argue, when in the UK alone official statistics suggest that an average of more than four people die on our roads every day, with a further 73 seriously injured? Apply the numbers across Europe and it’s estimated that 25,000 lives and 140,000 serious injuries will be avoided as a result of the regulations by 2038.

But the technology that supports these systems does come at a cost, and for many car makers it’s one that they perceive their customers won’t bear. It’s a reasonable argument. Back when stability control was being encouraged by safety regulators, car makers highlighted the fact that 80% or more of customers were opting to pay for metallic paint but less than 5% for the safety technology that could save their lives. It became mandatory.

So it was that it was decided some years ago that this tech must be present for a car to be sold. One expert recently estimated that each round of changes would add £50-£150 to the cost of every car, ironically with the entry-level models bearing the greatest burden (as their tech needs most updating – speed-limit monitoring, for instance, likely to require a sat-nav and cameras to be fitted in order to achieve the required accuracy).

Sure, that feels a small price to pay for improved safety, but as GSR ramps up every two years, it suddenly amounts to quite a lot, especially when you consider that margins on small cars have long been reported to be less than £500. That doesn’t leave much wiggle room for car makers if customers can’t or won’t pay.

In fact, if industry chit-chat is to be believed, it was enough to finally seal the fate of the Ford Fiesta once it was combined with anticipated costs of meeting the soon-to-land Euro 7 emissions regulations for the internal combustion engine’s swansong; as well as a raft of other city cars and superminis that are disappearing from showrooms.

There’s no argument that can be meaningfully presented against saving or protecting lives, and few people will feel sorry for mega-rich car makers, but it’s worth remembering the positive impact on wealth and social mobility that the transport revolution has made. Legislation and electrification are rapidly making the ‘affordable’ new (and subsequently used) car a thing of the past, and that inevitably comes at a cost of its own.

Source: Autocar

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