Cruiser’s Crash Results Questioned

July 31, 2000

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) put the first black mark on DaimlerChrysler's latest hit, the PT Cruiser, when it gave its car/truck hybrid just two out of five stars on its head-on collision tests.

Getting two stars means that there is a 36 to 45-percent chance the driver of the vehicle, assuming he or she is wearing a seat belt, will sustain an injury serious enough to require hospitalization.  

The PT Cruiser, which is built off the Neon platform, earned better marks in side-impact testing. It received four stars for front-seat passengers and five stars for rear-seat passengers.

In spite of the NHTSA results, Matthew Reynolds, DaimlerChrysler's director of vehicle safety, pronounced the car/truck hybrid safe. He said the automaker crashed more than 100 PT Cruisers and the company had expected a three-star rating in the front-crash tests.

Real world results?

Reynolds said that getting accurate real-world collision test results is difficult in a laboratory. Additionally, the vehicle was classified as an SUV for the purposes of the test. DC has not applied a formal tag to the vehicle, only classifying it as Personal Transportation (the "PT" portion of its name).

For the purposes of this particular NHTSA test, the vehicle is run into a wall at 35 mph. Sophisticated crash test dummies are used to record the forces that impact drivers and passengers. The results are analyzed to determine the overall rating for each vehicle tested.

The PT Cruiser is built off the Neon platform, but the Neon performed at a much higher level in the front-end crash test, receiving a four-star rating. However, it was rated worse in the side-impact collision tests, garnering just three stars.

The difference in the frontal collision test results is tied to the difference in weight between the two vehicles. The PT Cruiser is 3112 lb, while the Neon comes in at 2559 lb. In short, the PT is heavier so it carries more energy into a crash. The energy must be distributed somehow, which can negatively impact the driver.

Trendoids unconcerned

The impact on the vehicle's sales is expected to be minimal. First, the NHTSA tests always seem to engender some sort of controversy each year they're conducted. Secondly, buyers of the PT Cruiser are not buying the vehicle because of its possible safety record, but because of the unique styling and low price, according to analysts.

DC has sold nearly 22,000 PT Cruisers since it began rolling into dealer showrooms in April. In some instances, possible buyers are paying up to $10,000 over the sticker price to get one. The vehicle's MSRP ranges from $16,000 to $21,000, even after a one-time price increase of $1000.

NHTSA has come under some fire for the price it paid for its two crash-test PT Cruisers. The Feds paid nearly a combined $20,000 over the sticker price to secure its vehicles. Now, the results are being contested and the agency is now seeking to buy another one.

Chrysler expects to build 100,000 PT Cruisers this year, with 40,000 exported from the factory in Toluca, Mexico, to markets around the world. The company plans to build about 180,000 a year once production is up to full speed, and speculation has it that Chrysler will add production at its Belvidere, Ill., plant to meet the demand for the vehicle.

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