Chevy Astro, GMC Safari get worst ratings in government crash tests of minivans

Friday, March 18th 2005, 2:23 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Two General Motors vehicles, the Chevrolet Astro and the GMC Safari, fared the worst in government crash tests of minivans, according to results released Friday.

In rollover tests, the Ford E-150 van received the worst rating and was the only vehicle among 13 models tested to tip over.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Astro and Safari three out of five stars for driver's frontal crash tests. Three stars means there is a 21 percent to 35 percent chance of serious injury in a similar real-world crash. NHTSA conducts the front-impact test at 35 mph.

Five models earned the top rating of five stars in both frontal and side-impact tests: Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Grand Caravan, Kia Sedona, Mazda MPV and Nissan Quest. Five stars mean there is a 10 percent chance or less of serious injury.

None of the models studied scored less than four stars in side-impact tests, which are conducted at 38.5 mph. Four stars translate to an 11 percent to 20 percent chance of serious injury.

GM spokesman Alan Adler said the Astro and Safari met federal safety standards and noted that the tests were conducted in 1999. NHTSA conducts tests only when vehicles are new or significantly upgraded.

The vehicles, which have not had any major structural changes since they were first introduced in 1983, are going out of production in May.

``This is a vehicle that, obviously, when it was designed a lot of these tests were very new or hadn't been conducted,'' Adler said.

For rollover tests, NHTSA found the E-150 had a 29.5 percent chance of rollover, well ahead of other vehicles tested in the same category. Ford spokeswoman Carolyn Brown defended the safety record of the E-150, and said it was only one of two vans tested.

``Ford's analysis of substantial government data clearly demonstrates that the safety of these kinds of vehicles is comparable with other vehicles in a wide range of conditions,'' Brown said.

Among side-impact tests, the Honda Odyssey received five stars, but the government noted that the driver's door became unlatched during the side crash test, increasing the likelihood of occupant ejection.

Honda spokesman Andy Boyd said the unlatching had never happened during the company's testing and the company was investigating why it had happened. Boyd said the company does not consider it a safety concern as long as occupants wear seat belts.

GM initiated a recall of 25,766 Chevrolet Uplanders, Saturn Relays and Pontiac Montanas after manufacturer side-impact testing of an earlier version of the Uplander showed the release handle of the second-row bucket seat may become unlatched, increasing the potential for injury.

Adler said the company has placed a cap where the handle was located in an effort to fix the problem. Owners will be notified of the recall during the first week of April.

NHTSA released crash test results for 32 minivans and rollover ratings for 13 minivans. New 2005 frontal impact tests were released for the Buick Terraza, Chevrolet Uplander, Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Caravan, Dodge Grand Caravan, Ford Freestar, Honda Odyssey, Pontiac Montana SV6, Saturn Relay and Toyota Sienna.

The agency chooses vehicles to test based on popularity and other factors.