AMSTERDAM - How safe is Europe's first China-brand vehicle? It depends on which of two unofficial crash tests you believe.
German auto club ADAC says the Landwind SUV "catastrophically failed" a crash test it conducted last month. Widely circulated Internet movies show the steering wheel striking a test dummy's head.
Dutch-based distributor Landwind Motor Corp. says that with a reinforced frame the SUV did better in a separate test run by German certifying laboratory TÜV.
"We will fit the reinforcement on all cars and retrofit it to cars already registered," Landwind Motor Mana-ging Director Peter Bijvelds told Automotive News Europe.
Landwind has 100 cars road-registered in the Netherlands. Bijvelds said Landwind will change the steering column and modify fuel lines on the next shipment of vehicles to Europe to further improve the SUV's safety.
With the promised modifications, the Landwind complies with EU regulations, the distributor claims.
But a European crash test specialist who has seen the TÜV test results isn't so sure.
"The car seems to comply with some aspects of EU crash-safety legislation," said the official. But he has doubts about the safety of the Chinese SUV's side-impact resistance and the steering column.
European Parliament member Ari Vatanen of France wants the Landwind banned from EU roads.
"You cannot improve safety with a simple reinforcement - it is impossible. The problem was steering column [intrusion]," said Vatanen, a former rally car competitor. "This case could damage the reputation of all other Chinese cars to come."
One of the few points that the ADAC and Landwind do agree on is that both crash tests used different standards than those employed by the European Union or EuroNCAP, an independent research group.
The EuroNCAP test calls for test vehicles to hit a slanted barrier at 64kph. The EU test requires a speed of 56kph. The difference in speed is small, but the EuroNCAP test generates 30 percent more energy.
The EU won't test the car because Landwind isn't seeking so-called type approval from regulators for the SUV.
Instead Landwind registers its imported SUVs under a single-vehicle regulation. This option originally was meant for hobbyists building cars for personal use. Several low-volume EU carmakers use the same loophole.
Landwind charges that ADAC and its sister organization in the Netherlands, the ANWB, misled the public by implying that their test met legal standards. "We will take legal action if they do not withdraw this conclusion," Bijvelds said.
Critics say Landwind inappropriately uses single-vehicle registration.
A source at the Dutch homologation institute RDW, who asked to remain anonymous, said that the loophole helps Landwind because once the SUV gets the less-demanding single-vehicle approval it can be driven in all EU countries.
A TÜV source defended the process, saying: "It is not an illegal procedure."