WASHINGTON (Sept. 14, 2001) — Ford Motor Co. has asked the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) to postpone crash testing of the 2002 Ford Explorer until significant new structural changes are made in the sport-utility vehicle.
The IIHS, a well-known insurance industry group, is one of the most successful lobbying organizations in getting auto makers to adopt safety features and safety-oriented design changes. Every year it runs tests of new cars and light trucks to see how well passengers would survive in them if the vehicles crashed into a barrier at 40 mph.
IIHS President Brian O'Neill said there was “no question” that negative publicity had dictated Ford's request for a testing delay. Not only has the Ford Explorer been subject to constant controversy since last year's recall of 6.5 million original equipment Firestone tires on the vehicles, but also two other Ford products performed badly in IIHS crash tests earlier this year.
The Ford F-150 pickup truck received a “poor” rating from the institute in June, after the occupant compartment collapsed in the crash and the airbags didn't deploy immediately. Two months earlier, the new Ford Escape compact SUV rated “marginal” in IIHS testing.
“The fact that the Ford F-150 did poorly in our crash test, plus general problems with the old Explorer, obviously motivated the decision to redesign the vehicle and ask for us to delay testing,” Mr. O'Neill told Tire Business. He added that Ford expected to complete the design change by late October, and so the institute will crash-test the vehicle in November.
Ford officials couldn't be reached for comment on the issue, and a spokeswoman for Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. declined comment. The tire maker claims the design of the Explorer is at least partly to blame for the accidents —a number of them vehicle rollovers — that have claimed 203 lives to date, whereas Ford insists the tires alone are at fault.
A Ford spokeswoman confirmed her company´s request to the IIHS, saying they made it "because we knew there were changes coming." It´s not unusual for auto makers to ask for delays in crash testing, she added. "It´s happened before, as Brian O´Neill will tell you."