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Workhorses: Falcon XR6 ute (above), Courier (below, top), Rodeo 4x2 (below, middle) and Triton (below, bottom).

Popular utes score mixed results in latest crash tests as ANCAP defends its methods

6 Apr 2006

TWO of the most popular utilities sold in Australia – the BA/BF Ford Falcon and Toyota HiLux (4x2 and 4x4) – have scored four out of a possible five stars in the latest round of Australian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) crash testing, the results of which were released on Tuesday.

However, as GoAuto revealed last week, the Ford Courier 4x4 – and its Mazda Bravo 4x4 mechanical twin – managed a poor two-star rating. The Mitsubishi Triton 4x2 also scored only two stars, while the Holden Rodeo 4x2 and 4x4 scored three stars.

Astonishingly, Holden’s Commodore-based ute was not crash-tested at the same time as its opposite number at Ford. It is understood that it will be assessed later this year along with the Nissan Navara and Toyota LandCruiser cab-chassis.

Neither the Courier/Bravo nor the Triton had dual airbags fitted, whereas the Falcon, HiLux and Rodeo did.

According to NCAP, the Ford and Mazda twins had their test result marked down one star from their three-star rating achieved in 2002 because of changes made since then in the rating system.

Significantly, all vehicles tested managed just one star in terms of pedestrian protection, meaning a high risk of severe injury to a pedestrian hit at 40km/h.

Since ANCAP last tested utes in 2002, the HiLux, which is a new model, improved its performance from three to four stars. The AUII Falcon ute scored four stars in 2002, the Rodeo three stars and the VU Commodore ute four stars.

NCAP authorities – which include the RACV – confirmed GoAuto’s report last week that the Bravo/Courier lost one star because of a change in testing protocols, a move which upset Ford Australia but has been defended by ANCAP, even though a new – and presumably safer – Courier is just months away from launch.

A new Triton is also soon to arrive in Australia.

27 center imageRACV chief engineer Michael Case maintained that ANCAP’s credibility was intact, arguing that the Courier was tested to the current test protocol in the same manner as the other vehicles tested.

"The test protocol is the same for all of the vehicles," he said. "There have been some changes since the last set of tests, and there’s also some evolutionary changes.

"So with these results there have been changes in both the test protocol and the rating protocol since previous programs." The changes involved the overall assessment protocol and side-impact tests. Mr Case said such ongoing changes were not isolated to Australia.

"That happens in ANCAP as well as other NCAP programs around the world," he said. "The test protocol and rating protocol changes, but as long as you are publishing the information the same way, then it is comparable." The ANCAP tests showed that some of the more recently designed work vehicles and passenger car-derived utes performed better.

Asked if ANCAP should wait to test the newest vehicles, Mr Case said there was a requirement incumbent upon ANCAP to provide the crash-test information to the public as quickly as possible, even if it meant testing a vehicle that was due to be replaced.

"I think the issue is that when we’re in the planning phase we look at sales volumes of vehicles on the market at that time," Mr Case said.

"But we also ask manufacturers questions about the expected life of that model on the market and we have to balance that with when we are able to test the vehicle, and then publish the results and how long that result is going to be valid for once it is published.

"There is an obligation on us to get the information out there as soon as possible in a model’s life for consumers, and including in this case fleet managers, to use it in their purchasing decisions.

"I think we’ve got to balance that with the life of the model." Mr Case said another factor in the testing regime was that sometimes manufacturers’ advice in a new model’s arrival "was not all that specific".

"And even if they give us a date it is often quite a bit later before it turns up on the market," he said.

Mr Case said he understood Ford’s concern that the latest tests would not be relevant to the new Courier but countering this was the public’s need to have information on the current model.

"They need to know how it performs occupant protection-wise compared to the competition," he said. "It’s not just those people who are buying this new – they will be buying it second-hand, so it’s for existing users of the vehicle as well as people who are purchasing new vehicles." Another issue was the increasing demand for up-to-date information on vehicle safety from an occupational health and safety aspect.

In the case of utilities, such information was becoming more important for fleet and small businesses, Mr Case said.

"Employers are aware of their obligations of the OHS (Occupational Health and Safety) Act that extends to vehicles and they’ve been asking for some time for information that helps them know which of the work utes performs the best in occupant safety," he said.

"And this is really the first time that that information has been released on a range of workuse vehicles and we believe that vehicle fleet managers will now be using this information in their purchasing decisions on work utes." A spokesperson for Victoria’s TAC, Anna Chalko, said utilities were over-represented in crash statistics across the state. Last year 46 people died in ute-related crashes, representing 15 per cent of all motor vehicle fatalities in Victoria.

Ms Chalko welcomed the addition of the latest active and passive safety features in utilities but said there needed to be a safety benchmark with such vehicles.

"The incidence of utes being involved in a crash are two-and-a-half times more likely than a car," she said, claiming that this was partially due to the fact that work utes often spent more time on the road in their various applications.

Another factor in the importance of crash-test data was that many people were now buying utes as recreational vehicles.

Mr Case said the next round of ANCAP testing, due in July, would be more broad-ranging and would focus on between 10 and 12 new vehicles, one of which is expected to be the new Mitsubishi 380.

Further testing on some of the latest-model large cars is due at the end of November.

"We will aim to do other large cars when they become available," he said.

Among the cars likely to be tested are the new VE Commodore and Toyota’s new V6 Aurion, as well as the Ford Territory.

The ANCAP crash-testing procedures involve an offset frontal test at 64km/h and a side impact test at 50km/h. ANCAP is supported by all Australian and New Zealand motoring clubs and state governments.

ANCAP ute carsh test results:

Overall Crash Rating

Toyota HiLux 4x2 - 4 stars
Toyota HiLux 4x4 - 4 stars
Ford Falcon XR6 ute - 4 stars
Holden Rodeo 4x2 - 3 stars
Holden Rodeo 4x4 - 3 stars
Mazda Bravo/Ford Courier 4x4 - 2 stars
Mitsubishi Triton 4x2 - 2 stars Pedestrian Crash Rating
Holden Rodeo 4x4 - 1 star
Toyota HiLux 4x4 - 1 star
Ford Falcon XR6 ute - 1 star
Mazda Bravo/Ford Courier 4x4 - 1 star

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