WASHINGTON (Aug. 19, 2004) — Sluggish sport-utility vehicle (SUV) sales aren't likely to be helped by a new federal report that measures the vehicles' tendency to roll over.
Earlier this month the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released new rollover ratings for 2004 vehicles. It reports that 13 of the 36 SUVs test-driven by the agency tipped up on two wheels during a series of tight, sudden turns. Tipping is the first stage of a rollover.
For the first time, the agency's results calculate the possibility of various models rolling over in a single-vehicle crash. For SUVs, those percentages ranged from 13.0 percent for a Chrysler Pacifica 4x4 to 34.8 percent for a Ford Explorer Sport Trac 4x2.
The best-selling sport wagon, the Ford Escape, was one of the vehicles that tipped during the tests. A Ford Motor Co. spokeswoman downplayed the results.
“The NHTSA rating system has some value, (but) we don't believe it is the most effective indicator of how a vehicle performs in the real world,” she said.
In early August the agency reported that SUV rollover accidents caused 2,639 fatalities in 2003, a 6.8 percent increase from 2002. For the same period, rollover deaths in cars declined 7.5 percent, and deaths caused by pickup truck rollovers fell 6.8 percent.
Not surprisingly, cars performed much better—and pickups performed somewhat better—than SUVs in the rollover tests.
Sales of SUVs remain high but are slowing. The Power Information Network recently reported that new SUVs are sitting on car dealership lots longer and are getting higher sales incentives.