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Oct 5, 2010 12:19 PM

Transportation Department Outlined Changes to 5-Star Safety Rating System

WASHINGTON (AP) - No more grade inflation for new cars and
trucks.
The Transportation Department outlined changes Tuesday to the
government's 5-Star Safety Rating System that will make it more
difficult for new cars and trucks to earn top scores.
Only two of the first 34 vehicles tested under the new program -
the 2011 BMW 5 Series and a version of the 2011 Hyundai Sonata -
received the top grade of five stars. The Toyota Camry, the
best-selling passenger car in the United States, received three
stars.
The ratings range from one to five stars, with five stars being
the highest and one star being the lowest.
The so-called "Stars on Cars" system, which evaluates vehicles
on front-end and side-impact crashes and rollovers, was started in
1979 and has helped generate interest in safety equipment such as
side-impact air bags and anti-rollover technology. But the program
is being revamped for the 2011 model year because so many vehicles
were receiving top marks under the old system, making it difficult
to distinguish the best performers.
Typically, more than 90 percent of the vehicles tested under the
old system earned four or five stars. In 1979, less than 30 percent
received four or five stars.
"More stars equal safer cars," said Transportation Secretary
Ray LaHood. "Through new tests, better crash data and higher
standards, we are making the safety ratings tougher and more
meaningful for consumers."
LaHood said the new rating system will encourage automakers to
install crash avoidance technologies and will help car shoppers
"navigate a crowded marketplace with trustworthy and objective
safety analysis."
The new system adds an overall score, uses different sized test
dummies and takes into account crash-prevention technologies and a
new test that simulates a car striking a pole or a tree. The
overall score combines the results of front, side and rollover
tests and compares those results with average risk of injury and
the potential for vehicle rollover of other vehicles.
Consumers will not be able to compare a score of a new 2011
model year vehicle with that of a 2010 model year vehicle because
of the new test criteria. The window sticker attached to vehicles
in dealership lots will need to be redesigned and will not include
the overall score until the 2012 model year. Vehicles that have not
been tested will be listed initially as "not rated."
In the latest testing, most of the 34 vehicles reviewed received
an overall score of four out of five stars. The 2011 Nissan Versa
got two stars while hybrid and conventional versions of the Toyota
Camry received three stars. Another 21 vehicles will be tested
later this year.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents
General Motors, Toyota, Ford and other auto companies, said the
changes will mean the ratings found on new car labels will probably
go down, even in cases where there have been no significant changes
to the vehicle.
Mike Stanton, president of the Association of International
Automobile Manufacturers, which represents Toyota, Honda, Nissan
and others, said car makers had been concerned about confusion over
the new grading system. But he expected consumers to embrace the
changes.
"Everybody knows that vehicles are very, very safe today so
it's a degree of how safe and what's the new technologies and
hopefully this will take hold as people pay attention," Stanton
said.

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