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Two GM SUVs Get Lowest Rating

Jan 9, 2000 | USA Today

The federal government on Tuesday issued its first ratings of passenger vehicles' resistance to rollover crashes, and the lowest score went to two General Motors sport-utility vehicles. The Transportation Department gave one-star ratings to the Chevrolet Blazer and GMC Jimmy/Envoy four-door 4x2 SUVs.

The Ford Explorer 4x4 SUV, target of dozens of lawsuits as a result of accidents, was rated two stars. Only one vehicle among three dozen 2001 models tested, the four-door Honda Accord, received the top rating of five stars.

Several passenger cars, two light trucks — the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra ExCab 4x2 models — and two vans — Honda Odyssey and Chrysler PT Cruiser — were given four stars.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's rating system is the first step toward giving consumers more information about rollover, which accounts for about 30% of all auto fatalities. The government says rollover crashes kill 10,000 people each year.

The ratings use a controversial but long-used formula based on a ratio of a vehicle's width and height. Sport-utility vehicles have been among the worst when rated using the formula.

A law passed in the wake of the Firestone recall requires NHTSA to develop a real-world rollover test within two years.

Harry Pearce, vice chairman of General Motors, said he had not seen the ratings but called the five-star system too simplistic and perhaps "misleading to consumers." He said the ratings fail to account for such factors as a vehicle's suspension and tires and driver behavior. But because most of the Firestone-related deaths were in rollover crashes of Ford Explorer SUVs, the industry is resigned to tougher scrutiny.

Gloria Bergquist of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers says if a two-star rating represents a 30% to 40% risk of rollover, a consumer might think "one in three times they drive, they're going to roll over." The risk is actually the chance of rollover if a car or truck is involved in a single-vehicle crash.

As recommended by the industry, the ratings note which vehicles come equipped with stability systems, which help prevent rollover. Stability systems are an extension of antilock braking systems and traction control. Sensors monitor the direction the driver wants to take a car and where it is actually heading. Then the systems add brakes or power to send the car in the right direction. ABS Education Alliance says about 75 of the 2001 model-year vehicles have such systems. Included: all Mercedes-Benzes and Cadillacs and two Ford Focus models.

NHTSA's Rae Tyson says there is range of scores within each class of vehicle, which will help consumers shopping for only one type of vehicle or trying to decide whether to buy a car or truck.


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