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When buying child car seats, the safety aspect plays an even greater role than when buying pushchairs. But other features like comfort, functionality, and appearance are also important buying criteria.
What do parents particularly value when purchasing child car seats?
MAXI-COSI, a major European child car seat manufacturer and part of DOREL stresses that comfort is the most important criterion for the purchase of children’s car seats. Safety and quality are paramount for children. “At the same time, easy handling and comfortable use, as well as appearance, play an important role, as a child’s car seat should be adapted to the parents’ lifestyle, being easy to use and stylish,” says Michael Neumann, Managing Director Northern Europe at DOREL.
Per Ro Rotson, Director of the Norwegian company BE SAFE, emphasises the growing demand for rear-facing seats, which are safer. He also mentions other criteria: “At the same time, parents attach great importance to the fact that the seats are practical to use. We know, for example, that it is simply not enough that backward-facing seats are approved up until 4 years of age. The seats must also provide sufficient space for the child’s legs up to this age. Theory and practice must go together.”
What is the impact and influence of test results?
Before buying a pushchair or a child’s car seat, many parents read test reports or reviews on social networks. The test results influence the purchase decision, but are not always decisive. The Stiftung Warentest consumer group tests both product categories regularly (every 2 years). The published results are disseminated by numerous other print media and produce a relatively large media echo.
Neumann states that parents are particularly concerned about safety when they buy a child car seat. He says: “Everything to do with the baby is generally a very emotional topic. In product categories such as child car seats, parents are still very aware of safety, and they are looking for credible decision-making aids. Consumers and retailers rely primarily on Stiftung Warentest and ADAC. Both have a great influence on the consumer’s choice and therefore on the sales and the market success of a product.”
Robertson also attaches great importance to consumer tests: “Consumer tests are particularly important because they give parents an awareness of child safety in the car. Over the years, institutions such as ADAC and Stiftung Warentest have also made a significant contribution to increasing the quality of car seats. It’s not just that they’ve identified concrete areas for manufacturers to improve, but also done so more generally. For example: in the previous regulations, ECE 4404, there were no guidelines for side-impact protection. That means that a car seat could be approved for sale without a side-impact test. Thanks to ADAC, which has devoted considerable attention to this issue for many years, no serious manufacturer would today dream about producing a child car seat without performing side-impact tests. ”
Robertson sees an important role in consumer testing: “It is always possible to talk about test methods, weighing safety against handling, as well as all the details and their importance for the test result. However, it’s important not to split hairs. After all, we’re making child car seats for real life, not for the lab.”
What are the safety requirements for children’s car seats?
All manufacturers attach importance to observing European safety standards and not just because they fear negative test results. They are also trying to set new standards in order to take the lead in the global competition.
Since 2006, children must use special car seats all over Europe. All children’s car seats sold in the EU must comply with the EU safety regulations, ECE R44 / 04 or ECE R129. Since 2013, the R129 or the i-size regulation is valid in addition to the ECE R44 / 04. According to the i-size EU standard introduced in 2013 for Isofix seats, it is compulsory to have rear-facing transport of children up to 15 months as well as side-impact tests.
The i-size standard offers additional advantages compared to previously valid standards such as ECE R 44/04, according to Michael Neumann, Managing Director of Dorel Germany. In addition to simpler installation and improved fit, i-Size also works against the premature transition to the next seat size. That’s because the requirements for rear-facing seats are clearly defined up to an age of at least 15 months.
To develop and define the i-Size standard, UNECE used Dorel’s know-how in the field of child car seats and the company’s modern crash-test facility in France.
“We also know that even the safest child seat does not help if it is installed incorrectly. That’s why we are not only improving the safety technologies that are used in the seats, but also optimising the handling with many small innovations. The easier the installation, the safer the use,” says Neumann, who is also a member of the German Federation of Child Equipment Manufacturers.
Maxi-Cosi not only has state-of-the-art test systems in France but also in the USA. “Maxi-Cosi, however, tests for far more than the statutory requirements: from the durability of the materials to the colour of the plastic to the ease of use when placing the child in the car seat. All possible conditions that the product could be exposed to are simulated and additionally reinforced. Maxi-Cosi, for example, lifts its carry cot seat over 10,000 times and tests it with the simulated weight of the child. This ensures that the carrying handle can withstand everyday stress,” says Neumann.
What are the guidelines for chemicals?
BRITAX-RÖMER also sets high standards that go beyond the legal requirements. “Whether it’s safety during a crash or the use of chemicals, the legal framework is not our benchmark. We produce products that we use for our own children.
A current example of new safety policies and regulations is the EU’s REACH Regulation. This sets out which chemicals may be used in production. Thanks to Britax Römer’s internal guidelines, we continually come in well below the permitted values during tests. This guarantees safety not only if there is a crash, but also in terms of harmful effects from toxic substances.
The high quality, service life, and safety of our products are not only tested continuously during the development process on our new modern crash-test system, but also through internally developed test procedures. For example, we buckle and unbuckle the children’s seats 14599 times, which is equal to 4 times a day for 10 years in everyday life,” explains Moritz Walther, Marketing Director EMEA Britax Römer.
Almost all major child car seat manufacturers also produce for Asian, Latin American, and US markets, so other national policies and regulations must be observed. According to Dorel, China plays a major role as a sales market and a production location. The Asian market, especially China, is also important for BRITAX-RÖMER. “In Asia, they appreciate the value of “Made in Germany” and the associated quality of the products. The growing demand for mobility in Asia gives us the opportunity to establish ourselves as a market leader in a rapidly growing market,” says Moritz Walther, Marketing Director EMEA Britax Römer.
As part of the struggle for market leadership, both renowned companies are targeting the Asian market. However, Britax-Römer has, according to its own reports, shifted 90% of its child car seat production back to Europe in recent years. Conversely, HTS BESAFE, a Norwegian childcare company, has set up its own plant in China, arguing that the sales market in Asia is developing rapidly.
Images: Cybex, Maxi-Cosi