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Five-star Camry in the wings

Safety update: Toyota is expected to tweak the hybrid Camry's safety to help it qualify for federal five-star fleet rules.

Toyota Camry set to meet federal fleet five-star safety rule with last-minute tweak

General News logo9 May 2011

By RON HAMMERTON

TOYOTA is set to announce a safety improvement for its locally made Camry just weeks before the Australian government introduces a mandatory five-star safety rating for all federal fleet passenger car purchases from July 1.

The current four-star Camry and Camry Hybrid – made at Toyota Australia’s Altona plant in Victoria – would be ineligible for federal fleet sales under the new rules, putting a major hole in Toyota volumes, at least until the arrival of the new Camry later this year.

But GoAuto understands that moves are afoot to address the situation, even though the Camry is effectively in run-out.

The Camry was judged by the independent Australian New-Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) to be a four-star car at launch, mainly due to the absence of a front passenger seatbelt warning device.

Toyota said at the time that fitting such a device on Camry was too difficult, although it fits one to the Camry’s sister car, the Aurion, which qualifies for five stars.

80 center imageFrom top: Holden Captiva 7, Holden Barina, Toyota Yaris.

Toyota’s next Camry – now being prepared for launch later this year in a program partly funded by the federal government under its Green Car Innovation Fund – will almost certainly comfortably gain the top five-star ranking in the ANCAP test.

The next Hybrid Camry is not due out until 2012, which would have meant a sales hiatus of up to 12 months from one of the car’s biggest customers if a five-star rating had not been achieved.

GoAuto understands that Toyota has submitted revised specification for Camry to the ANCAP engineers, who are likely to tick the five-star box.

The Camry and Hybrid Camry are the only sub-five-star cars on the federal government Fleet Monitoring Body’s ‘Tier 1’ list of eligible passenger cars that – by order of previous finance minister Lindsay Tanner – includes only cars made in Australia.

Apart from the Toyota Aurion, other five-star cars on the list are the Ford Falcon and Territory, Holden Commodore and its derivatives (Berlina and Calais), Caprice and, from April 1, the locally made Cruze.

Under Mr Tanner’s fleet purchase and leasing guidelines announced in June last year, the Tier 1 list of cars must be the first port of call for federal departments and executives within the public service wanting a new vehicle.

However, if they can’t find a car that suits their operational purpose from the Tier 1 list, they can choose from a second Tier 2 list of four-cylinder cars that are all imported by the three Australian manufacturers – GM Holden, Toyota and Ford.

But three of those cars will also fall foul of the five-star rule announced jointly by finance and deregulation minister Penny Wong – whose department controls the vehicle fleet – and parliamentary secretary for infrastructure and transport Catherine King.

These include the four-star Holden Barina and Captiva diesel, and Toyota Yaris. Like the Camry, the Barina and Yaris are set to be replaced with new models later in the year and both are expected to then qualify.

The Captiva rating on the ANCAP site applies to the previous Series 1 model and it is unclear if the Series 2 facelift – released in February – would make the five-star grade if re-tested. Like the Camry, a revision might be in the wings.

Tier 2 cars that already meet the ANCAP qualification are Ford’s Fiesta, Focus and Mondeo, and Toyota’s Corolla and Prius.

As well as a mandatory five-star rating for passenger cars, the federal government will introduce a compulsory four-star safety rating for light commercial vehicles “subject to operational requirements” from July 1, 2012.

Although a number of vehicles such as Holden’s Colorado currently fall below that line, new models in the pipeline should address that shortcoming before the deadline.

However, federal fleet operators have been told that, until the new rule comes in, they should consider purchasing minimum four-star vehicles wherever practical anyway.

Announcing the new five-star fleet safety rule, Senator Wong said the government had to play a lead role in important issues such as vehicle safety and encourage other fleet operators to follow suit.

“We hope that by taking this step we will make Australians more safety aware when buying a new or used vehicle for their family or business,” she said.

The federal government helps to fund the ANCAP safety testing program, whose chairman Lauchlan McIntosh welcomed the move as a strong statement of support for the work ANCAP had done over the years.

“With its massive purchasing power, the commonwealth will certainly sway vehicle manufacturers in producing large numbers of five-star vehicles for both the corporate and the private markets,” he said.

GM Holden director external communications Emily Perry said Holden’s fleet department said the five-star rule would have little effect on the company’s federal fleet sales.

At the time of publication, GoAuto was seeking comment from Toyota Australia.

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