The more safety features a car has, the more expensive it will be — but industry insiders say they’re worth the cost.
By Ibrahim El-Shakankiry
It’s a foggy morning and you are driving on Cairo’s Ring Road, hoping that you’ll get to work in one piece. You take all the precautions possible, but nothing can solve the fact that you can’t see a thing past the hood of your car. Suddenly a car swerves right in front of your vehicle, so you grab your steering wheel and slam on the brakes. Instantly, your car’s Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS) kicks in to keep your wheels from locking up and causing an uncontrolled skid. At the same time, the Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD) system is assessing the car’s speed and road conditions to apply the proper braking force to help you maintain control.
The car’s technology, which few people ever give much thought to, helped prevent what could’ve been a gruesome accident and saved you from becoming one of Egypt’s 12,000 road accident fatalities each year. The good news is that many of these safety features come standard in new cars. The bad news is that the Egyptian government views auto safety features as a luxury item, which means some dealers import feature-free cars to reduce costs. You have to do your homework when buying a new car.
Mahmoud Mostafa Kamal, the editor in chief of El Tawkeel (www.eltawkeel.com), an Arabic-language website dedicated to auto industry news, also believes that people should focus more on safety features when buying a new car, explaining that unlike in European countries, Egypt has no law here specifying the minimum safety features that a car should have.
Among the basic features you should look for when buying a vehicle in Egypt, Kamal lists ABS and EBD, which both help prevent skids when a driver slams the brakes on sandy or wet roads; the Electronic Stability Program (ESP), which automatically applies the brakes to help keep the car moving in the intended direction when the system detects loss of steering control; and at the very least, two air bags for the front passengers.
“More air bags are always good,” says Kamal. “As for the ESP, it should be standard in all cars above LE 100,000. It’s essential to maintain good traction for the car in different situations, by applying the brakes in one or more tires to keep the car from rolling.”
While Egypt doesn’t get much rain through the year, Kamal notes that it does however have “a lot of magary (sewage overflow), “and a poor infrastructure that makes 10 minutes of rain a big disaster. That why it’s very important to drive cars with ABS, EBD and ESP.”
When researching auto safety, Kamal explains, “It depends on the engine and transmission layout, not the body type. All-wheel drive is safer than front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive, because of its good traction, but only a few brands are offering all-wheel-drive vehicles in the Egyptian market. For example, you will not find a sedan with all-wheel drive system under LE 200,000 except for the Subaru Impreza. Also, BMW is famous for its rear-wheel-drive system, but it offers all-wheel-drive in some of its SUVs in Egypt like the X3, calling this feature X-Drive.”
If you have a specific car in mind, the Tawkeel editor recommends checking the vehicle’s score on the European New Car Assessment Program or EURO NCAP, which conducts and reports its independent assessments of a model’s safety features.
Safety is a Luxury
The problem in Egypt, according to Kamal, is the customs regime applied to imported cars. The Tawkeel editor explains that car safety features are considered a “luxury,” not a necessity, and thus, more customs are paid on each feature — costs that are passed on to the consumer.
“When the customs are reduced on safety features, it will not cost the country a lot of money [to import cars],” he says.
In fact, Kamal notes that Egypt could save a lot of money and resources by making safety features more affordable. Fewer accidents would reduce the damage to roads and infrastructure, save time lost in traffic jams caused by accidents and free up police and rescue personnel. “Most importantly, it will save a lot of lives.”
Mohamed Mahmoud, manager of the Honda dealership in Fifth Settlement, agrees that there are certain safety features that should be “standard” in all vehicles, including ABS, ESP, EBD and curtain, front and side airbags.
“Not all of these features are available in all cars being sold in Egypt,” says Mahmoud. “In Honda vehicles, for example, all of these safety features [discussed previously] are available except for the curtain airbags, which protects the driver in case the vehicle flips over.”
The dealer notes that the high-end vehicles sold in Egypt — such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Volvo and Audi — all include the standard safety features in their cars. Other less-expensive cars, on the other hand, will not have that “privilege.”
“Someone with a budget to buy a high-class vehicle, like BMW for example, or even a Honda Civic, will not have a problem to obtain a car with all of the available car safety features,” says Mahmoud, “but if someone was aiming to buy a less-expensive car, they will have to sacrifice the safety features, or at least some of them.”
Beyond the standard features, car companies are constantly developing new safety technology, which may become standard on new models or available as an add-on.
Last month, Mercedes-Benz Egypt hosted a three-day safety driving event to raise awareness of road safety issues in Egypt and showcase the brand’s most recent addition to its safety features. For example, Mercedes’ Cross-Traffic Assist uses electronic sensory input to assess the braking force needed the second the driver steps on the brake pedal. The new safety feature adds to the already available Brake Assist Plus, which uses three radar arrays and two cameras attached to the windshield to monitor traffic around the vehicle. Cross-Traffic Assist increases the pressure on the brakes based on the amount of potentially dangerous traffic and a wide variety of parameters. The cameras not only recognize moving vehicles, but also pedestrians and bicycles as well. This feature does not guarantee you’ll avoid an accident, however, it can bring the vehicle to a complete stop quickly, if possible, and minimize the damage from impact.
Even if a person prides himself on being an excellent, cautious driver, there are too many factors beyond a driver’s control — other drivers, pedestrians, weather and the roads themselves — that pose risks.
“I drive on the Ring Road almost everyday, and I for one consider it to be an off-road, not a highway,” said Kamal, emphasizing all the cracks and holes he sees on the pavement and bridges. “There are parts on it where you can literally see the people walking right beneath it.”
Until the government rethinks its approach to auto imports and safety technology, a safe car remains an expensive car. But Kamal thinks its worth every extra pound: “Having the right safety features in your car, especially the right braking system can surely make the difference.”et
Automech Pulls Into Cairo
The best place to learn more about the latest in auto safety features and everything else about the latest models is the 2014 Automech Formula, running March 13-18 at the Cairo International Convention and Exhibition Centre. Now in its 16th consecutive year, Automech is the largest showroom and accessories exhibition in Egypt and the Middle East.
This year’s show includes companies such as Mercedes-Benz, Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover, Bentley, BMW, Peugeot, Audi, Chevrolet, Opel, Renault, Seat, Toyota, Nissan, Subaru, Kia, Suzuki, Hyundai, Brilliance, Speranza and many others. The exhibition is divided into two sections, one showcasing automobiles and commercial vehicles, and the other featuring vehicle components, spare parts, tools and accessories, along with a motorbike showroom.
Alongside the event, the Second International Conference on Road Safety is being held March 15-16 to explore innovative solutions to the nation’s road safety issues.
For more information and updates visit Automech at www.automech-formula.com www.facebook.com/AutomechFormula