There are many reasons why you can buy a $7,500 new car in Mexico and you can’t in the United States, but safety is a major one.
Although many of the cars built in Mexico are exported to the United States, its local safety requirements pale in comparison, and entry level cars sold there do without much of the basic safety technology available today.
To illustrate the difference, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and its Mexican counterpart, Latin NCAP, conducted a head-to-head crash test of the cheapest sedans Nissan sells on either side of the border: the $7,500 Tsuru and the $12,000 Versa.
The Tsuru is essentially an early 1990s Sentra that’s managed to avoid extinction all these years thanks to its popularity as an affordable taxi or first car. The cheapest versions don’t even come with airbags or stability control as standard equipment. The Versa has them, plus better overall impact protection, and gets a Good rating from IIHS.
The offset frontal collision was conducted with both cars moving at 40 mph, and the results were predictably gruesome. The front of the Tsuru bent nearly 45 degrees and allowed significant intrusion into the passenger compartment, while the Versa held up well.
NCAP has been pushing for an end to so-called “zero star cars” like the Tsuru in emerging markets. Mexico recently announced that it will be improving its safety standards by 2020, but NCAP thinks it has the ability to do it sooner.
In fact, in the wake of this criticism, Nissan has decided to discontinue the Tsuru next year.