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Holden and Toyota are refusing to supply Commodores and Aurions for independent scrutiny

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Crash test stand-off

Bill McKinnon, The Sydney Morning Herald, 04/05/07

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Holden and Toyota are refusing to supply Commodores and Aurions for independent scrutiny, reports BILL McKINNON.

In a major snub to the Australian New Car Assessment Program, the independent crash test scheme, Toyota and Holden have both refused an opportunity for their large Aurion and Commodore sedans to become the first Australian made vehicles to carry the maximum five-star safety rating.

ANCAP has completed initial testing, for front and side impact protection, on Aurion and Commodore, using four cars bought with its own funds.

It is now asking Toyota and Holden each to supply a third car and pay for the final stage of the tests, which involve another side impact, this time against a pole rather than another (simulated) vehicle.

A car must undergo this optional pole test in order to be eligible for a five-star rating. It doesn’t guarantee top marks, though. Even if it goes through the complete test, a car can still come up short of the score required to achieve five stars.

‘‘We won’t be paying for a pole test, or supplying an Aurion,’’ says Toyota’s Mike Breen. ‘‘We can’t justify spending the money.’’ This is despite the marketing potential of a five-star ANCAP rating and the relatively low cost of the pole test – estimated at $75,000-$100,000 including the car. This compares with the multimillion-dollar advertising budget for the Aurion.

Is Toyota’s refusal to fund the test an admission that the Aurion – even with standard side and curtain airbags in the base model AT-X – can’t achieve five stars? ‘‘No. We’re confident it would get five stars,’’ Breen says.

Holden has already self-rated the Commodore at four stars. As with other makers, it conducts tests using NCAP procedures to estimate how its vehicles may perform. At base model level, Omega has no front-seat side or curtain airbags.

‘‘It is still our expectation that VE [Commodore] will score four stars,’’ says Holden’s John Lindsay. ‘‘We will not be paying for a pole test in the hope of getting a five-star NCAP rating.’’

When told by Drive of Toyota’s refusal to fund a pole test, ANCAP chairman Lachlan McIntosh expressed frustration at the reluctance of local manufacturers to acknowledge the validity of ANCAP tests, or the influence of its results on new car buyers’ purchase decisions.

‘‘It’s a pity they believe the ratings are unimportant,’’ he says. ‘‘Clearly people want this information and most other manufacturers are keen to promote their five star ratings. In the rest of the world the car industry’s opposition to NCAP ratings is over. Everyone else has moved on.

‘‘It should not be that difficult for Toyota and Holden to achieve a five-star rating with these cars, so we need to ask why they seem to be unable to do so.’’

Toyota and Holden deny their refusal to fund the pole test is based on a long-standing tacit agreement within the Australian car industry to avoid acknowledging or promoting NCAP results.

‘‘We are very supportive of NCAP,’’ Breen says. ‘‘However it’s not our goal to achieve specific NCAP scores. We also believe that NCAP tests are not as entirely robust as those we use when assessing crash worthiness.’’

Holden ‘‘acknowledges’’ NCAP test results but says they are only one measure of safety performance. ‘‘We have to design our products to perform well in the real world environments in which they are used,’’ Lindsay says.

ANCAP’s request for Toyota and Holden to supply cars for the pole test seems to be at odds with its claim to be truly independent, and poses an intriguing question: what’s to stop an unscrupulous car company supplying ANCAP with a vehicle specifically engineered to perform well in the tests?

ANCAP councilmember Michael Case denies any compromises aremade to obtain cars for crash tests.

‘‘We have fully documented standard operating procedures for obtaining vehicles,’’ he says. ‘‘In the first stages of the tests we buy two cars from dealers, using an independent buying service. When sourcing a car from the manufacturer for the pole test, we would make a random choice of vehicle from a holding yard, or using a list of Vehicle Identification Numbers.

‘‘There is no way we would take a specially prepared one. We are absolutely confident in the integrity of our procedures.’’

Meanwhile, the US Department of Transportation has now legislated for the compulsory display of NCAP test results, including star ratings, on a label to be attached to all new cars from September 1 this year.

The label will also have the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration NCAP testing agency’s toll-free number and website address so consumers can get detailed crash test results.

Aurion and Commodore ANCAP test results will be announced in July.


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Not necessarily the same tests, and of course GM Holden could always promote the US scores without having to pay ANCAP for their tests.

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