Adapting a car from a left-hand drive layout to a right-hand drive configuration may sound like a straightforward affair, with a simple flip of the dashboard orientation being all that’s needed. However, this is far from the case, and crucial elements often emerge to redefine the manner in how conversions are made, resulting in a number of – often hidden – design changes coming about in the switch.

Take safety, for example. Compliance to regulations as defined by a testing protocol can sometimes show up flaws that may have otherwise not been noticed without the facilitated change, and the parameters for a particular automobile safety programme may reveal something another didn’t.

Case in point, the Proton X50 and its five-star ASEAN NCAP rating. Redeveloped from the Geely Binyue, the desire to meet the highest standard defined in the programme saw the national automaker making crucial, yet subtle changes involving material replacement and the repositioning of parts.

These changes were highlighted in an article interviewing Zanita Zainuddin, Proton’s head of Safety and Intelligent Drive. It was her team at the automaker that was tasked with redeveloping the Binyue into the X50 from a safety-related perspective.

One of the most crucial changes involved reworking an aspect of the body of the X50. In initial crash testing during development, the front floorboard often experienced tearing during a frontal collision, which is unacceptable by ASEAN NCAP standards, as the certification is extremely strict on tears affecting the area around the feet.

To overcome this, engineers had to reinforce these areas with ultra-high-strength steel, effectively shifting the force of impact to other areas that do not present any threat to occupant safety. Overall, 40% of the body, including the front, side and back, was made using a combination of high-strength steel variants.

Another technical revision was with the driver’s footrest, which is located next to the brake pedal. With the engine always oriented under the hood towards the right side of the vehicle, regardless of the driving side, the automaker said that in the event of a collision, the driver of a right-hand-drive X50 would be more vulnerable to foot injury as compared to the driver of a left-hand drive Binyue.

The company said that in order to safeguard the driver’s resting foot from such harm, the footrest for the X50 was modified to ensure that the foot remains on the footrest, with limited slippage.

The national carmaker also pointed out that while different programmes all follow a general guideline in terms of parameters, some have a slightly different criteria in rating a certain aspect within the assessment. For Geely, its cars were mostly made to comply with the criteria set forth by the C-NCAP programme for the domestic market, which in some areas greatly varies from those set by the ASEAN NCAP.

An example is with the curtain airbags. The ASEAN NCAP protocol emphasises that the static deployment of curtain airbags covers a range of body types for the different people that may be driving, something that isn’t present in the C-NCAP protocol.

As such, the curtain airbags for the X50 had to be adjusted to provide additional cushioning to the head area during impact, primarily in side collisions. Since this greatly improves occupants’ safety, the design change was out forward by Proton to the Geely design team for consideration as a staple feature in future models.

Another learning curve for Geely is in the area of Child Occupant Protection (COP) safety. Interestingly, C-NCAP does not currently assess the safety of baby seats for child occupants but will likely introduce this assessment in 2021. This presented Geely with an opportunity to work together with Proton.

One of the changes made in this area included lengthening the hook on the Isofix interface, making it easier to fit a child safety seat. Also, the anchor’s angle was readjusted to offer a more secure placement of the seat.

Aside from the safety-related revisions, the automaker also pointed out that the driving assistance features from the Binyue were carried over except for the Speed Limit Information Function (SLIF), a feature that recognises Chinese road signs and informs the driver of the current road’s speed limit.

It was explained that if left on, the system could potentially provide incorrect information to the X50’s control unit due to language, character and signage differences, and so it was decided that the function be put aside until it can be adapted for use in future models.

Zanita said Geely and Proton have both benefited from each brand being subjected to different safety approval and market standards, with best practices gathered and shared across the board, nowhere more than in the field of safety.

“Proton has always emphasised safety as one of its unique selling points unbiased to any country or platform. It is not surprising then that we continue to challenge ourselves, so that this DNA is inherent throughout our range of models, be it our locally-produced car or the current joint development with our partner Geely,” she said.

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