crash test

The sound of two vehicles colliding is always shocking. Even when it’s choreographed on a crash-test runway with both vehicles travelling at just 50km per hour, it hits the ears and heart of the observer with a booming bang that feels traumatic.

Still, it’s a relief knowing what’s observed during a crash test can help stop trauma on our roads. Safety is, after all, the most important factor when buying a new car — ahead of price and reliability.

In Australia, most people look for a five-star safety rating from the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP Safety), Australasia’s independent vehicle safety authority, which has crash-tested vehicles and published safety ratings for new cars since 1993. To deliver on its vision of “Safe vehicles for all”, ANCAP actively pursues market influence by advocating improved safety specifications and promoting safety innovations to buyers. Its “Let’s rewrite the ending” consumer awareness campaign launched in November, for example, encouraged consumers to buy newer vehicles with autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and lane support systems, which demonstrably reduce the risk of collisions. It followed nearly five years of lobbying government and industry about fitting these safety technologies across Australian and New Zealand fleets.

“ANCAP’s role is to develop and pursue higher standards for vehicle safety, through a non-regulatory approach,” says Carla Hoorweg GAICD, who joined ANCAP last September with 20 years’ experience in finance, law and policy. “The organisation has created this environment where manufacturers are striving to get five stars for their vehicles, and progressively the standards required to get five stars are higher. [Our] influence is greatest when encouraging vehicle brands to adopt features and technologies ahead of regulation — by coercing change at the top of the funnel — as vehicles enter the market.”

Last October, the federal government released a Regulation Impact Statement proposing the regulatory need for AEB systems on new vehicle models from July 2022, and all models from July 2024.

“One of the attractions of working at ANCAP is its ability to influence manufacturers to do better, and the flow-on to new regulations that benefit the public,” says Hoorweg. “It’s a similar approach to what I experienced at the Financial Services Council, developing industry standards that push people and organisations towards doing better for consumers.”

ANCAP safety by the numbers: 2019–20

74 dummies used in crash tests

291 tests conducted

$750,455 average cost to produce single ANCAP safety rating

143 vehicles worth

$9.09m destroyed in the name of safety

Source: Beyond the Stars: The Facts Behind ANCAP 2019–20

Purpose-driven work

Like Hoorweg, Andy Cornish GAICD, who became chair of ANCAP’s board in April 2020, was attracted by the organisation’s drive to improve safety standards in the industry. Indeed, ANCAP’s mission to eliminate road trauma aligns with his personal values.

“Ever since having children, my central purpose has been around protection and prevention,” he says. “ANCAP is particularly well aligned to that purpose, because we test how well vehicles protect people in a crash. And by testing new advances in vehicle safety, we’re also looking at ways to prevent accidents from happening. That motivation for protection and prevention has coloured a lot of my career, through the roles I’ve had in insurance as well as the board positions I have now.”

Since “retiring” from his chief executive role at insurer IAG in 2016, Cornish has found a nice balance between serving on boards, consulting to the insurance industry and mentoring executives through a program called Larapinta Connect, which he co-founded with Mark Burrell.

The program guides leaders along the Larapinta Trail in Central Australia, encouraging them to connect with themselves, the land and local Indigenous people as a juxtaposition to their own lifestyles, explains Cornish. “The benefits come from building up trust, connections, friendships and business opportunities between non-Aboriginal people and Aboriginal communities,” he says. “It also gives executives context for their own purpose, meaning and legacy.”

Cornish believes the best career opportunities are those that allow people to make a meaningful contribution to the organisation, its sector and the community it serves – work that is worthwhile and not just about building up a CV.

So he was pleased when ANCAP headhunted Hoorweg, because she embodies many of the values and qualities he admires. “We were looking for somebody with the highest integrity, who has great experience in developing strategy and is an authentic, honest communicator — and Carla ticked all the boxes,” he says. “She comes across as a thoughtful and well-researched person who is passionate about the role we play in saving lives across Australasia.”

crash test

Influencing without fear or favour

ANCAP has a bold target rate to test at least 90 per cent of all mass-market light vehicles sold in Australasia. At an average cost of $750,000 to produce a single ANCAP safety rating, the company relies on support from member organisations (motoring clubs, insurers and road authorities), vehicle brands and the European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP).

“While some manufacturers support ratings by contributing towards the costs, that doesn’t impact at all on the independent scientific and engineering analysis conducted,” explains Cornish. “The protocols are clear and we hold onto our independence very strongly; when we test vehicles, it’s without fear or favour.”

The board regularly reviews industry data to ensure ANCAP is performing against its target of testing 90 per cent of vehicles in the market. And, if a manufacturer hasn’t already put forward a model to be tested, it can direct ANCAP’s management team to buy and test it independently.

Cornish suggests Hoorweg’s experience as an international volleyball referee means she’s very familiar with managing people’s expectations while maintaining independence to ensure the rules are followed.

When the analogy is put to her, Hoorweg agrees it’s apt. “Your job as a referee is to respond to the action,” she says. “You’re not in the match — you’re not influencing the outcome — you’re making sure the match is conducted fairly. How you respond to a player’s behaviour can demonstrate whether or not that behaviour is appropriate.”

There’s no doubt ANCAP’s vehicle-buying audience is interested in the final score. ANCAP’s biennial brand tracking consumer research found that 90 per cent of consumers believe ANCAP safety ratings should be displayed on all cars.

“Of course, what we’re looking to do is influence individual consumers and fleet buyers,” says Cornish. “We’ve seen safety become a much more significant influencer of buying behaviour and it helps enormously in the advocacy... on what manufacturers need to provide to meet newer safety protocols.”

Cornish notes the Australian and NZ governments, as well as many large organisations in both countries, have policies to only buy vehicles with five-star safety ratings.

In 2012, BHP was one of the first large corporations to implement the policy across its worldwide fleet. More recently, Uber Australia introduced a five-star ANCAP vehicle safety requirement for the 60,000-plus vehicles on its platform.

“It’s important we lead industry towards our goal of ensuring there are safer vehicles on the road,” says Hoorweg. “Our role is also to educate buyers about what new technologies mean for safety.”

Although there’s a lot of talk about driverless vehicles, Hoorweg says the conversation right now needs to be about safety features that support drivers — such as AEB, lane departure warning and active lane keep assist technologies, because those are the building blocks to full automation.

“We want to make it easier for people to compare safety features, because different manufacturers fit different features and technologies,” she explains.

“I know from my experience in the financial services industry that consumers get extremely confused about products that look similar, but offer slightly different features. When it comes to vehicle safety, we need to send very clear messages about what you’re buying — so having an independent safety rating system is vital.”

Insights on effective leadership

  • CEOs and chairs work best when they trust each other “It’s not about being the best of friends, because sometimes you’ll have tough conversations, so it’s important you can be frank with each other. To make it work, you need a really strong bond of mutual respect and trust.” — Andy Cornish
  • Check you’re on the same page “The earlier you build that trust, the better the relationship is for it. It helps you escalate issues at the right time and makes it easier to check that what you’re saying means the same thing to the other person. You don’t want conversations to unfold where people think they’re furiously in agreement but they’re actually talking about completely different things.” — Carla Hoorweg
  • Encourage diversity “The important thing for any board is having a diversity of views and experience, and the role of the chair is to make sure everybody is heard. You want good, honest conversation that’s courageously authentic to make sure you talk about the right things. I think constructive conflict is a good thing to have around a boardroom table, provided it’s done politely and with respect, because you get a more balanced view.” — Andy Cornish
  • Promote the board’s purpose “Everyone needs to understand their responsibilities and accountabilities. One of the challenges of a member organisation is that some people might be more focused on representing their interests rather than the organisation’s. Especially with a lot of technical people around the table, you might need to remind people to look at issues through a governance lens.” — Carla Hoorweg
  • Review performance regularly “We ask the board to rate itself, but we also get an external party to evaluate board performance. Some of the gaps we’ve previously identified and addressed include better governance frameworks, broader diversity of skill sets and more strategy conversations. We’ll do that every year because, with the heightened expectation on boards, it’s important we’re continually improving. Is it a big commitment? I don’t see it as that, actually. We have to continually learn about ourselves to know we’re doing the right thing.” — Andy Cornish