Last week, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety announced its 2010 Top Safety Picks and the results surprised many. A newly added roof-strength test, which measures protection in a rollover, filtered the list from 94 picks in 2009 to only 27 for the 2010 model year.
In the roof-strength test, a metal plate is pushed against one side of a vehicle’s roof at a constant speed. To earn the highest rating of Good, the roof must withstand a force that’s four times the vehicle's weight before reaching 5 inches of crush.
So, what happened? Why were trucks dropped from the list? Did they all fail the new test, including the previous winners? We asked Russ Rader, IIHS spokesman, for an explanation.
“We didn’t test any trucks,” Rader said last week. “We sent notice back in January to all the manufacturers that the roof-strength test was going to be added this year. Since the new test is outside the usual test schedule for trucks, we asked manufacturers to flag the vehicles they wanted to include [in this year’s Top Safety Pick awards]. We’d purchase the vehicles for the testing, and the manufacturers would have to reimburse. Ford, Honda and Toyota didn’t flag their trucks – though Ford flagged other vehicles - so we didn’t test them.”
Why wouldn’t Ford, Honda and Toyota want their trucks tested before IIHS gets around to them in the next round of scheduled testing? We asked each of the manufacturers for their reasons.
“The F-150 and Ranger pickups already exceed government [roof-crush standards] that go into effect in a few years,” said Wes Sherwood, Ford’s safety communications manager. “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 99% of belted vehicle occupants do not suffer injuries from rollovers where they contact the roof. Most injuries are to unbelted occupants.”
Sherwood also highlighted that the Ranger and F-150 offer standard roll stability control and side-impact airbags to improve occupant safety. In 2009, Ford also re-engineered the F-150’s roof with high-strength steel and tubular construction that runs from the base of the A-pillar up through the roof, forming a safety cage around the truck’s occupants.
“We expect that the Ranger and F-150 will perform competitively with the other trucks in their segments when they’re finally tested by the IIHS,” Sherwood said.
Honda spokesman Chris Martin provided the following prepared statement about this year’s IIHS testing:
“American Honda Motor Co. Inc. has long provided vehicles that are at the forefront of passive and active safety technology. Under the previous Insurance Institute criteria, nine 2009 Honda models and all five 2009 Acura vehicles achieved Top Safety Pick ratings -- the most of any automaker. As a result of IIHS adding the stringent new roof-crush test to their Top Safety Pick criteria, the Honda Civic and Element are the only 2010 models we produce that earn that designation. Our vehicles continue to provide the same high levels of real-world safety as they did before IIHS changed their testing. This will be just as true when NHTSA changes their five-star rating system in the 2011 model year. Safety continues to be a top priority for American Honda.”
Of the three manufacturers – actually, out of all the vehicle manufacturers tested - Toyota was the most vocal in stating its opinion and position of this year’s test results. None of its vehicles made the cut for a 2010 Top Safety Pick.
"IIHS' statement that Toyota was shut out for 2010 is extreme and misleading, considering there are 38 Toyota, Lexus and Scion models, and only three were tested for roof strength by IIHS: Camry, RAV4 and Yaris," said Toyota's prepared statement on its media website. "This is the first year IIHS has included its own roof-strength tests, which exceed federal standards, for TSP consideration. All Toyota vehicles meet or exceed federal safety standards for frontal- and side-impact, roof-crush resistance and rollover protection."
Rader responded to this statement by saying “Asking companies to flag certain vehicles isn’t new. We can only assume that manufacturers that did flag their vehicles were confident they’d pass the testing.”
It’s only a matter of time before almost every pickup is tested through the course of IIHS’ normal schedule. Midsize and compact trucks are starting the process and results for that segment are expected to be available by late December.