Astro and GMC Safari do poorly in crash tests Windstar is only van to get good evaluation from Insurance Institute

November 20, 1996|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

The Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari, midsize vans made in Baltimore, fared poorly in 40-mph crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, according to results released today.

There was major occupant compartment damage in the frontal offset test, in which the vehicle hits a barrier at an angle. According to the institute, this best replicates the most common form of highway accidents. Injury measurements for the Astro and Safari indicated the possibility of left upper leg injury and the likelihood of lower leg injury.

Of the 14 passenger vans tested, Ford's Windstar was the only vehicle to receive a good evaluation. This result, together with the Windstar's excellent performance in the federal government's 35-mph frontal crash test into a flat barrier, earned it the institute's "best pick" evaluation.

Ford's rear-wheel-drive Aero-star, which competes directly with the Astro and Safari, was also given a poor rating.

"The [Pontiac] Trans Sport was by far the worst performer in the crash test," said Brian O'Neill, the institute's president. "The 1997 Trans Sport is a new design, but in this case new isn't the same as good."

In the Trans Sport test, he said, there was massive collapse of the van's occupant compartment.

"Deformation near the driver's feet was so great that the [crash test] dummy's metal foot snapped off," O'Neill said.

He said there was also indication of "serious neck injury, possibly even a fracture of the neck."

O'Neill said that similar results would be expected of the Trans Sport's twin vehicles: the Oldsmobile Silhouette and Chevrolet Venture.

Toyota Previa was also rated as poor.

General Motors was critical of the institute's test results for its Trans Sport minivan. GM classifies its Astro and Safari as mid-size vans.

"The GM minivans are safe vehicles," said William O'Neill, director of product publicity for GM's North American operations.

"During the design phase, GM ran 72 full-scale crash tests, replicating a wide variety of potential, real-world circumstances a driver may face."

He said GM ran tests in the front, side and rear, using fixed barriers, moving barriers, poles and vehicle-to-vehicle tests.

"The GM minivans meet or exceed applicable U.S. and international safety standards," O'Neill said.

The GM spokesman said the institute "is wrong if it's suggesting that the safety and occupant protection of any vehicle can be objectively evaluated on the basis of this one unusual, high-speed crash demonstration.

"Any automobile manufacturer would be severely criticized if it marketed the safety of its vehicle on the basis of only one test, particularly this one."

Vans receiving a marginal rating in the institute's test included Mazda MPV, Dodge Grand Caravan, Chrysler Town and Country, Plymouth Grand Voyager, Honda Odyssey, Isuzu Oasis, Nissan Quest and Mercury Villager.

Brian O'Neill, the institute's president, said that "vans generally have good on-the-road crash experience compared to other passenger vehicles, principally because they're large and driven more by low-risk drivers."

With the exception of the Pontiac Trans Sport, the institute executive said, there were limited injuries to the upper body during the van crash tests. Most of the serious injuries, he said, were to the lower part of the body.

Pub Date: 11/20/96

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