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Sport Trac Fares Poorly in Test

August 10, 2004|From Bloomberg News

Ford Motor Co.'s Explorer Sport Trac is the most likely of 68 vehicles tested to roll over in a single-vehicle crash, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Monday in its first such ranking.

The 2004 Explorer Sport Trac with two-wheel drive rolls over 35% of the time in crashes that don't involve another vehicle, the U.S. agency said. The Sport Trac is an Explorer with a pickup bed instead of an extended interior passenger compartment and cargo area.

Rollover deaths in sport utility vehicles last year rose 11% from 2002 and accounted for 55% of U.S. fatal accidents in those vehicles. Rollovers occur in just 3% of crashes in the U.S., according to the agency.

Congress ordered the testing in 2000 after at least 271 rollover deaths, most involving Explorers with Bridgestone Corp.'s Firestone tires. The agency rates vehicles from one to five stars and gave the Sport Trac two stars, the second worst.

"While we believe the NHTSA rating system has some value, we don't believe it is the most effective indicator of how a vehicle performs in the real world due to test variability," Ford spokeswoman Kristen Kinley said. "Accident-avoidance situations are such unpredictable events that it is very difficult to try to mirror that to real-world performance."

The Sport Trac's rollover likelihood was 7 percentage points higher than that of the conventional two-wheel-drive Explorer and General Motors Corp.'s two-wheel-drive Chevrolet Tahoe sport utility, the agency said.

The agency's ratings are based on a combination of a mathematical formula that assesses rollover chance based on a vehicle's height and axle width, and a 45-mile-per-hour test called the "fishhook." That test involves sharp turns in opposite directions to simulate maneuvers to avoid crashes.

General Motors' Saturn Vue, which was recalled last week after the suspension collapsed during a rollover test, wasn't given a rating because the vehicle failed to complete the test, agency spokesman Rae Tyson said. The recall covered 245,000 vehicles in the U.S. from the 2002 through 2004 model years.

The ratings are an improvement but still flawed, Joan Claybrook, president of the consumer group Public Citizen, said in a statement. Manufacturers should be required to post the information on new vehicles, and the ratings should cover every model, she said.

Mazda Motor Corp.'s RX-8 sports car had an 8% rollover probability, the lowest of any vehicle tested.

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