Deadliest Crash: Making Autos in Brazil Backfires

Many locally made automobiles in Brazil — some from the biggest names in the industry — are simply too unsafe to ever be sold in the U.S. While automakers in Brazil maintain that their vehicles pass national safety laws, these safety laws are notoriously lax. Detroit News reports that a profit of 10 percent is made on vehicles produced in Brazil compared to 5 percent globally and 3 percent in the U.S. Dr. Dirceu Alves, a member of a Brazilian doctors’ association that specializes in treating car accident victims, said, “The gravity of the injuries arriving at the hospitals [in Brazil] is just ugly…injuries that should not be occurring.”

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How poorly made are these Brazilian-produced cars sporting brand names like Fiat (BIT:F), General Motors (NYSE:GM) and Volkswagen (FWB:VOW)? An independent analysis by the Latin New Car Assessment Program has given some of these companies’ best-sellers a mere one of out five starts for safety. The death rate from passenger car accidents in Brazil is nearly four times the rate in the U.S., according to an Associated Press analysis. While the auto accident death rate is decreasing in the U.S., it is climbing by leaps and bounds in Brazil.

Vehicle safety is so lax in Brazil that regulators there do not even have a crash-testing facility — they simply take the manufacturer’s word that a car is safe. There are also no independent crash-testing labs in the country. Automakers have been more than happy to take advantage of the nearly non-existent auto safety environment in Brazil and cut as many costs as they can, all while producing models that look — on the outside – like their far safer U.S. and European counterparts.

This deadly problem is only expected to grow worse. Right now, about one in seven Brazilians own a car. There is almost one car in the U.S. for every American. The more unsafe vehicles on the road, the deadlier the accidents will become in Brazil.

How much of a difference in safety is there between a car rated one star for crash-test safety compared to a car rated four or five stars? “The difference is you’re talking about somebody dead in the vehicle or dying very quickly, or somebody being able to get out of the vehicle themselves…It’s definitely a difference between life and death,”  David Ward — director of the FIA Foundation for auto safety — said via Detroit News.

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At the same time, auto sales are growing steadily in Brazil. Vehicle sales in the country grew by 18 percent from March to April this year, according to The Wall Street Journal. As more and more Brazilians enter the middle class, the country’s appetite for new cars will continue to grow far into the foreseeable future. Will automotive safety in Brazil grow with the demand?

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