An unprecedented case in automotive safety: FIAT’s Punto model scores a ‘0’ rating in the safety NCAP crash test

If you have an interest in the field of automotive, you certainly have heard about Fiat’s recent inferior reputation when it comes to crash tests. In December 5th 2018, multiple car outlets [1] [2] [3] reported a crash score of 0 (tested by NCAP [4]) for the Fiat Punto. Although Fiat has the image of having a ‘price first, quality second (or maybe even third..?)’ approach -which is evident by for example their infamous involvement of the well-engineered Lancia’s such as the rally-winning Fulvia after they took over the brand in the late 60’s, and interchanging the quality parts out with cheaper options (the so-called  ‘decontenting’ in the automotive world) and the decline of build quality of Alfa Romeo- Fiat did actually produce cars that scored promising in the crash ratings. So: Why are the safety test results low? How committed is Fiat to safety? What can they do to control the hazards during collisions?


The infamous 2018 Fiat Punto (image obtained from [8]

First of all, it is important to note that crash tests scores are not general, but rather specific for vehicle types. A small car scoring 5 stars does not (necessary) mean that the car is safer than a 4 star scoring truck. Hence, the test scores are not to be compared amongst different car size classes. Basic introductory physics suggests that bigger, heavier cars have the benefit in a safer outcome during frontal collisions due to longer hoods and a bigger crush zone. Because bigger, heavier cars possess more energy during impact, data such as the publication from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) report that the lighter car will typically be pushed back by the heavier car when such collision occurs [5].  According to the IIHS, there is a significant difference in reported data of fatalities in crashes of drivers and occupants in bigger cars than in smaller cars. The lowest death rate is reported for the category of ‘very large’ SUV’s, for example Land Rover Range Rover, Mercedes GLE, BMW X5, which has 13 deaths per million registered vehicles [5]. The highest death rate reported are for very small cars (category small hatchbacks: for example Fiat 500, Smart, Ford K, Toyota Yaris) with almost 5 times as high of a death rate: reported is 64 deaths per million registered vehicles [5] for the small car category.

So: The Fiat Punto did not score low based on the fact that it is a smaller sized car. Based on what hazards are these? First, it should be noted that safety standards for cars are constantly raised over the years. The Fiat Punto (from 2012 to 2018) is based on the Fiat Grande Punto hatchback (build from 2006 to 2010). The difference In standards and regulations through the years is eye-catching: while the latest generation Fiat Punto scores 0 stars, it actually received 5 stars back in 2006 [6]. Hence, it can actually be concluded that the current safety standards are quite demanding compared to previous years.


A crash test of the 2018 Fiat Punto from NCAP [4]. This one in particular is the ‘Front Offset Deformable Barrier Test’.

As is the case of most automotive companies, the so-called wave effect is a popular term used by car mechanics: when a company obtains many complaints about quality, they -logically- will try hard to improve the matter. This is done until complaints are scarce, so in the interest of costs, they tend to decline the quality again, which often of course is at the expense of safety quality as well. A good example of this is the early model Audi A4 TDI. The first generation of this TDI (the Turbocharged Direct Injection) diesel engines of Volkswagen group, also known as the unit injector diesel (Dutch: ‘pompverstuiver diesel’) and also implemented in Seat, Skoda, etc. These engines were extremely reliable, where there are (still) models for sale with milage of over the 800,000 km. Strangely enough, the ‘updated’ version of this TDI block became much worse in terms of reliability, where models were even in need of replacement after 150,000km.

Hence, it appears that FIAT is focusing on costs and stretches the profit margins as much as possible. Consequence is that they end up with unsafe car designs that are not up to date with the constantly demanding and changing car safety standards. The Fiat Punto has been ‘primitive’ in terms of car equipment. The only essentials are the passenger air bags, the knee air bags, traction control and the anti-lock brakes [6]: these can certainly not meet the current high standards. Hence, current automation forms are not present in the car. While most car have safety features such as smart cruise control to anticipate on the car in front of you, autopilot systems to detect whether you are in the correct lane and automatic emergency brake for when a person or car is suddenly appearing. Although it does have a safety belt reminder [7], and it has airbags, current standards are demanding more, where there is tested on safety protection of adults, children and pedestrians in an event of accident. The Fiat Punto scores 51%, 43% and 52% [8]. In comparison, The Ford Fiesta scored 87%, 84% and 64% [8]. Hence, Fiat seriously needs to consider updates in safe design to control fatality accidents:

  • Update sensory system of the car to detect collisions and avoid them
  • Upgrade corresponding automation technologies
  • Focus less on cost and hence reduce ‘time until executing measures’ of controlling a hazard and increase the frequency of updates to keep up to date with high demanding car safety standards; current technology would certainly promote better collision avoidance technologies than a car designed in the mid-2000’s.