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IIHS rates new GM mid-vans as Good in crash tests

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Alex Law
Though the test itself involves a situation that almost never happens in the real world, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has used clever PR efforts with television to turn its front crash tests into a major force in consumer thinking about safety.

That being the case, General Motors seems pleased to have upgraded the standing for its mid-sized vans to ''Good'' from ''Poor'' as a result of recent testing.

According to the crash-testing arm of the U.S. insurance industry, the new GM models show ''dramatic improvement compared with earlier minivans from General Motors.''

2005 Chevrolet Uplander (photo : General Motors)
After crashing a 2005 Chevrolet Uplander (it would be the long-wheelbase model in Canada, since the U.S. does not get the regular-wheelbase model), the IIHS gave it a ''Good'' rating, which is the highest score possible.

The previous GM minivan model got a ''Poor'' rating, which is the lowest score possible. According to the IIHS, the previous model was ''one of the worst performing vehicles in the Institute's frontal crash test.''

Because of commonalities in structural design, by the way, the new ''Good'' grade earned by the Chevrolet Uplander also applies to the Buick Terraza, Pontiac Montana SV6, and Saturn Relay.

Notwithstanding that, GM still has issues with the IIHS test itself. As Alan Adler, the manager of product safety communications for GM, points out, the test by IIHS replicates a very rare real world situation. Two vehicles of roughly the same weight both traveling about 65 kmh when they collide with each other ''is extremely rare in real-world driving. In fact, it represents less than one percent of all crashes in which vehicles must be towed away, based on National Automotive Sampling System statistics.''

GM's midsize vans ''offer excellent real-world crashworthiness and comprehensive safety before, during and after a crash,'' Adler says. They also have side airbags and the OnStar safety and security system. ''GM conducts dozens of real and computerized crash tests on every new vehicle and meets or exceeds all federal safety standards.''

Beyond that, says Adler, the offset barrier crash test on the previous model passenger vans was first conducted when both the vans and the IIHS test were newly introduced, which means the company hadn't taken it into consideration.

''When the Institute tested the 1997 Pontiac Trans Sport,'' says Institute CEO Adrian Lund, ''there was massive collapse of the occupant compartment. Major intrusion into the driver's survival space pushed the steering wheel toward the dummy and violently snapped the dummy's head backward. Deformation of the area near the driver's feet was so great that the dummy's metal foot broke off.''
Alex Law
Alex Law
Automotive expert