GM Defensive After IIHS Test of Equinox
By Kevin Miller
General Motors is on the defensive today after the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) released its latest test results for small SUVs. Possible IIHS ratings include Good, Acceptable, Marginal and Poor, and are based on results of front and side crash tests plus evaluations of seat/head restraints for protection against whiplash injury in rear crashes.
The 2008 Chevrolet Equinox (and its badge-engineered cousin sold as the Pontiac Torrent) received Marginal scores for the side impact tests for front and rear seat passengers. Note that the Equinox tested was not equipped with optional side airbags, When side airbags are optional, the IIHS policy is to test without the option because this is how most of the vehicles will be sold. A manufacturer may request another test with the optional airbags if the automaker reimburses IIHS for the cost of the vehicle. General Motors didn’t request a second test of the 2008 Equinox; curtain airbags will be standard in the 2009 Equinox which the IIHS plans to test later this year.
As the IIHS issued a press release this morning to publicize the latest test results, GM also issued a short press release, quoted here:
The Chevrolet Equinox and Pontiac Torrent meet or exceed all federal safety standards and have performed very well in other consumer information tests. Once again, for the 2009 model year, the Equinox and Torrent received the highest rating of 5-stars for both the driver and front passenger during the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) frontal crash test.
The Equinox and Torrent provide a host of standard safety features consistent with GM’s Continuous Safety Approach, including StabiliTrak electronic stability control system. New for the 2009 model year, the Equinox and Torrent will have standard head curtain side-impact air bags.
Each GM vehicle is engineered and tested to help provide protection in more than 150 types of collisions. The IIHS side crash test is a single and very severe test.
While GM should be proud of the Equinox/Torrent NHTSA and NCAP results, those results alone are no reason for the company to rest on its perceived laurels. The very last line of the press release is what hits home: “The IIHS side crash test is a single and very severe test.” That is very true. But any vehicle crash can be very severe. There is no point in making excuses for poor crash test results; reported injuries cannot be explained away.
Making safety equipment such as airbags optional instead of standard seems to be a false economy, both on the part of the automaker and the consumer. The automaker runs the risk of having their car perceived as unsafe even though the safety equipment is available. And the consumer who chooses to save a few hundred dollars on their $23,000 Equinox purchase is gambling with his own safety as well as the safety of anybody who rides with him. In either case, the financial saving seems minimal compared to the potential risk. Perhaps GM has realized this, as curtain airbags will be standard on the 2009 Equinox and Torrent.
Among other small SUVs tested with the Equinox, four earned the IIHS Top Safety Pick. Those vehicles include the 2009 Ford Escape (with Mercury Mariner and Mazda Tribute clones), 2008 Mitsubishi Outlander, 2008 Nissan Rogue, and 2009 Volkswagen Tiguan. These four models earned Good ratings in all 3 of the Institute’s evaluations, and all are equipped with standard electronic stability control and side airbags. These vehicles join the Honda CR-V and Element, and Subaru Forester in the Top Safety Pick club among small SUVs.
Remaining silent is Chrysler, whose 2-door Jeep Wrangler (also tested without optional side airbags) earned a Poor rating in the latest round of IIHS testing. While the previous version of the Wrangler, in which side airbags weren’t available, earned a rating of Marginal for protection in side crashes, the new model did not perform as well, as the driver door opened during the impact. An open door in a crash could lead to partial or complete ejection of occupants.
While Chrysler did not request a re-test of the Wrangler with optional side airbags, it did request a re-test of the Jeep Patriot. The Patriot has standard side curtain airbags, but optional front torso airbags. When tested with the standard curtain airbags only, the Patriot earned a Marginal rating. In the second side test of the Patriot with the optional seat-mounted torso airbags, this vehicle’s rating improved to Good. Perhaps Chrysler should take a page from GM’s playbook and make the torso airbags standard equipment. It’s tough to put a price on the piece of mind that comes with knowing your vehicle is a bit safer.
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