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Mitsubishi Montero Fails 'Consumer Reports' Test

Jun 21, 2001 | USA Today Consumer Reports magazine rates the 2001 Mitsubishi Montero Limited sport-utility vehicle "not acceptable" because of what it says is its risk for rolling over in some hazardous driving conditions.

It is just the third time the magazine has handed out its lowest rating for a vehicle.

Mitsubishi was quick to challenge the testing methods used by Consumers Union, which publishes the magazine, and says it has no reports of rollover crashes with the Montero.

The test involves running the vehicle through a slalom course at varying speeds, the driver steering left, right, then left again on a short course to mimic the driving one might have to do to avoid an unexpected road hazard.

Consumer Reports says two wheels came off the ground eight out of nine times the Montero went through the course at 37 mph or higher.

Pierre Gagnon, president of Mitsubishi Motors, the company's U.S. division, said Consumers Union's testing does not reflect "real-world" driving conditions. Consumers Union "forced an outcome that misrepresents the safety of our vehicle," he said.

Mitsubishi is instructing dealers to describe Consumer Reports' tests as "unreliable and unscientific." Gagnon says neither Mitsubishi nor the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has any reports of Montero rollover accidents.

Consumers Union defended its testing. "We have no interest in making any manufacturer look good or bad," said R. David Pittle, senior vice president and technical director. "We tested six other SUVs on the same track, the same day with the same drivers, and they all performed well."

The others were the 2001 Dodge Durango, 2002 Ford Explorer, 2002 GMC Envoy, 2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee, 2001 Nissan Pathfinder and 2001 Toyota 4Runner.

NHTSA, which began giving vehicle rollover ratings with '01 models, has not yet rated the Montero Limited. It gave the Montero Sport two out of a possible five stars for rollover resistance, a score equal to the Explorer and Grand Cherokee. The best any SUV has scored is three stars.

A not-acceptable rating could devastate Montero sales, which were 8,800 this year through May, according to Autodata. Sales of the Suzuki Samurai tumbled from 54,000 in 1988 to 5,000 in 1989 after Consumer Reports rated it not acceptable. Isuzu, whose Trooper SUV got that rating in 1996, saw sales fall more than 50% in 1 year.

Another worry for Mitsubishi is that sales of its Montero Sport SUV, which is a completely different vehicle, may also be hurt because of the shared name. Mitsubishi has sold more than 24,000 Montero Sports so far this year. Consumers Union has the Montero Sport on its recommended list.

Mitsubishi, which is controlled by DaimlerChrysler, has been on a roll in the USA. Sales were up 20% last year to 314,417 and are up 6% through the first 5 months of this year.

Gagnon says Mitsubishi hasn't decided whether to sue Consumers Union as Suzuki and Isuzu did.

Isuzu and Suzuki alleged libel and product disparagement. Isuzu was unable to prove malice. A judge ruled that Suzuki had no case against Consumers Union, but Suzuki is appealing that decision even though it quit selling the Samurai in 1995.

Marketing professionals say taking on Consumer Reports is not a high-percentage endeavor.

"The lawyers say you have to do it, but consumers will take Consumer Reports' word over their minister's when it comes down to it," says marketing consultant Dennis Keene.

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