VOLKSWAGEN CANADA – DOES SAFE HAPPEN WITHOUT STABILITY CONTROL?

volkswagen jetta

*Updated @ 6:50pm on 5.21/10 with VW’s response*

An unfortunate discovery forms the foundation of this Volkswagen criticism. If hypocrisy is the name of the game, then what a terrible game it must be. I, like others, enjoy Volkswagen’s “Safe Happens” commercials as much as the next guy. In a strange way, the “Safe Happens” commercials are convicting, helping to form a proper view of life – it appears for a little while and then vanishes away. On the other hand, Volkswagen’s “Safe Happens” commercials are convincing: sound German engineering will protect you in case of a serious accident. So solid is the Volkswagen Jetta, you might just be able to walk away, the commercials lead you to believe.

However, behind Volkswagen’s ability to convince in this commercial is just a little bit, a very little bit, of conniving. Volkswagen convinces us that, in case of an accident, the high price you paid for the product will be worth it when you find your car crushed but your bones intact, yet the Jetta is offered to the Canadian public without a little piece of technology which could help you escape an accident in the first place. 

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The collision portrayed in the “Safe Happens” commercial you can watch after the jump was no fault of the Volkswagen Jetta’s lack of stability control. Even with electronic stability control, the Jetta would still have been smoked by an oncoming car. This is why I’ve used the phrase, “very little bit of conniving”. Volkswagen’s “Safe Happens” commercials send the message that they’ve engineered this car so perfectly you’ll never need to worry about your safety or the safety of your friends and family. By making stability control an option rather than standard equipment, Volkswagen is also saying they value your safety; but at a price.

Is that so terrible? Automakers must take into account the personal safety of all future occupants, but they’ve got to make money too, right? Going into business isn’t just a public service, it’s a way to earn a living. So if Volkswagen decides to take safety seriously…. up to a point, and then charge $450.00 for their Electronic Stablization Program in Canada, they’re just trying to make sure their business stays afloat, right?

A paragraph of valid questions that may be, but 2012 sees the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration mandating stability control on every car because it saves lives. In fact, in the United States, every new Volkswagen Jetta is equipped with stability control. Safe happens? Yeah, but only south of the 49th parallel.

Don’t allow yourself to lump Volkswagen in a pot by itself. GoodCarBadCar.net has criticized Hyundai’s safety hypocrisy before. Of Canada’s three best-selling cars, only the Toyota Corolla comes standard with stability control. The Honda Civic can only be fitted with stability control if you’re buying the Civic EX-L, Civic Hybrid, or Civic Si; Honda doesn’t even make stability control an option on the less-expensive models. Mazda 3 buyers look at a spec sheet and see stability control as standard equipment on the GT and MazdaSpeed 3 but an option on the GS and unavailable on base models. Thanks for protecting us. And for the record, Honda Canada’s website makes safety one of three bullet points on the Civic sedan’s main page and safety is the second section on Mazda Canada’s 3 overview page.

What’s so great about stability control? This video will help you understand, but a few simple facts should make the case for ESC. Mandated stability control is expected to reduce single-vehicle accidents by 34%, NHTSA says, while saving 5,600-9,300 lives each year in the United States alone once all light vehicles on the road are equipped properly. Good enough?

red smart fortwo

Those facts are good enough for Mercedes-Benz, the makers of the ultra-compact and inexpensive smart fortwo. GoodCarBadCar.net’s long-term 2009 smart fortwo comes standard with stability control for $14,990 in Canada. The Volkswagen Jetta, even the $28,540 Jetta TDI Comfortline, requires another $450 spent to secure stability control. So yeah, Safe Happens, but only if you live south of the border, or spend more than $30,000 on your Canadian-market Jetta, or shell out another $450 for options. Safe maybe doesn’t always happen.

Don’t be hard on stability control, either. This isn’t antiquated traction control from your mother’s 90s minivan, a system still found on many vehicles with stability control. ESC, called something different by almost every automaker, is your active safety net. Rest assured, you’d rather have an active safety net than be forced to observe how well your passive safety net actually protects you when it smacks you in the face. All the airbags in the world won’t do anything for you until you’re in the accident. Stability control wants to keep you from having the accident in the first place.

As for the smart fortwo, not a single member of its most similarly priced competition group in Canada is even available with stability control. Not the Chevrolet Aveo, not the Hyundai Accent, not the Kia Rio, not even the Toyota Yaris or Honda Fit. Apparently spending half as much on a car nets you the protection of stability control, but only if you go with a smart fortwo and not a more traditional transporter. Ironically, the Scion iQ, judging by the Toyota iQ’s spec sheet, will be fitted with stability control as standard equipment.

Let this be a lesson to other safety hyprocrites. The Good Car Guy has called out a few of you, and it’s not fun to sit at the front of the class with a dunce cap on your head.


Volkswagen Canada’s Response, in less than 140 characters, to boot.
“As of the 2011 Model Year, all Volkswagens sold in Canada will feature Electronic Stability Control.”
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