The 2021 Mitsubishi Express van has made history by being the first vehicle to score a zero-star ANCAP rating.
The Express, which is popular with tradies and commercial fleets, failed to earn a single star because of the absence of active safety systems such as autonomous emergency braking and forward collision warning.
It also delivered “marginal performance” in physical crash tests and “lacks basic safety features that consumers have come to expect in a newly released model”, according to independent crash-testing body, Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP).
Mitsubishi Australia reintroduced the Express nameplate in 2020 after a seven-year hiatus. However, instead of bringing an all-new van, it rebadged the ageing Renault Trafic - Mitsubishi is able to do this because it is part of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi strategic alliance.
The Renault Trafic had received a three-star EuroNCAP rating 2015, before such testing took active safety features into account. It still holds that rating in Europe.
A Mitsubishi Australia spokesperson pointed out the Express was designed in accordance with the 2015 NCAP protocols but was tested to ANCAP’s stringent 2020 testing regime, which places importance on technology that was unavailable in such vehicles six years ago.
“Compared to competitor peers of a similar age, the vehicle holds a competitive position in terms of NCAP rating,” the spokesperson said. “It holds a three-star (2015) rating in Europe, ANCAP did not report NCAP’s earlier rating.”
“The technology included in the vehicle reflects the lifecycle cycle of commercial vehicles, which is generally eight years or more.”
However, ANCAP Chief Executive Carla Hoorweg said the Express’s specifications do not align with today’s safety expectations.
She added that while ANCAP often awards ratings solely based on EuroNCAP scores, the Trafic commercial van remained unrated in Australia as the European testing applied specifically to 8-9 seat people mover offered in Europe.
And even if the Renault Trafic van earned three stars here, ANCAP does not carry over vehicle ratings across brands if the new vehicle is released in a calendar year more than two years after the date stamp of the original assessment.
“The ANCAP rating system has evolved to move the industry forward, and with the Mitsubishi Express being newly released into the Australasian market just last year, it has been assessed against our current [2020-2022] criteria," Hoorweg said.
But the zero-star rating could seem harsh considering that, as the Mitsubishi spokesperson points out: “The Express meets all Australian Design Rules (ADR) standards for vans, and the results of the crash testing by ANCAP indicates a good level of occupant protection.”
Hoorweg disagreed: “Unfortunately we saw below par performance for protection of occupants and vulnerable road users from the Express, with results lowered even further due to a fundamental lack of active safety systems.”
ANCAP’s technical report, which the safety body initiated and funded without Mitsubishi’s involvement, found “physical crash performance of the Express was marginal in areas, with notable risk of serious injury to the chest of the driver in three of the four destructive crash tests (frontal offset, full width frontal and oblique pole tests)”.
While ANCAP recognised the zero-star rating will have a dramatic impact on Mitsubishi Express sales - it will become ineligible for purchase by a wide range of fleet and commercial buyers - it remained unapologetic.
“The Express’s poor result sends a clear signal to manufacturers and their global parent companies that safety must be prioritised in all segments offered to the Australasian market,” Hoorweg said.
“Safety rating criteria and consumer expectations have evolved, as have manufacturers’ desire and ability to introduce improved levels of safety. We know Mitsubishi can deliver vehicles with high levels of overall safety and a wide range of modern safety technologies, and we encourage them to accelerate the introduction of these features into their van product.”
Interestingly, the previous model Express had been removed from sale in Australia in 2013 because of safety concerns. Mitsubishi Australia stated at the time that it “flew in the face of the company’s philosophy on crash safety”.
“The reason behind the decision is that we are focussing our product strategy on safety features, and we’re trying to achieve five-star across the range,” Mitsubishi said in 2013.
The zero-star 2021 Mitsubishi Express ANCAP rating applies to all variants introduced in Australia from June 2020 and in New Zealand from October 2020, which includes short- and long-wheelbase versions with either the 1.6-litre or 2.0-litre diesel engine.
More vans under ANCAP’s spotlight
While this is bad news for Mitsubishi, ANCAP has been at pains to point out that there are several vans on the market that carry safety ratings from as far back as 2011 that may not fare any better than the Express if they were tested today.
In December 2020, the organisation declared it could no longer recommend vans that were still available with minimal active safety systems, including the Express, Hyundai iLoad, Renault Trafic, Renault Master and Iveco Daily.
Mitsubishi Express ANCAP test key points
The Mitsubishi Express achieved the following scores in key areas:
- Safety assist – 7.0 percent
- Adult occupation protection – 55 percent
- Vulnerable road-user protection – 40 percent
- Child safety protection – N/A
The Mitsubishi Express is fitted with dual frontal and side head-protecting (curtain) airbags are standard. A side chest-protecting airbag is also standard for the driver only. The Mitsubishi Express has three front-row seating positions.
Chest protection is not provided for the front row passengers. A centre airbag to prevent occupant-to-occupant interaction is also not available, nor is a frontal airbag for the centre passenger seating position.
Safety assist features
The Mitsubishi Express is fitted with a manual speed limiter and seatbelt reminder (driver only), however important active safety systems including autonomous emergency braking (AEB) capable of detecting and preventing collisions with other vehicles, pedestrians or cyclists is not available. An active lane support system (LSS) is also not available on any variant.
Vulnerable road user protection
The protection provided by the bonnet of the Mitsubishi Express to the head of a struck pedestrian was predominantly adequate, with weak and poor results recorded at the rear and sides of the bonnet and on the stiff windscreen pillars.
Protection of the pelvis was mixed, with areas of good to marginal performance. Protection to pedestrians’ legs provided by the bumper was also mixed with areas of good to weak performance.