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Toyota's Echo deflates in safety test

Downfall: Toyota’s Echo has had its NCAP rating downgraded in the latest round of testing.

Crash-test rating downgraded after Toyota deletes optional airbag

21 Jul 2004

TOYOTA’S Echo hatchback has had its crash-test performance downgraded by the independent Australian New Car Assessment Program.

In the strongest stance against a car-maker taken in Australia by the safety body, ANCAP dropped the popular light car’s overall rating from four stars to three (out of a possible five) after Toyota Australia deleted an optional airbag from the range.

"It is disappointing that the Toyota Echo has had its rating reduced from four stars to three in Australia, due partly to the deletion of the passenger front airbag from the options list," said RACV chief engineer (vehicles), Michael Case.

"It is very rare to see the specification of a vehicle reduced."Toyota Australia refused to comment on the NCAP result but spokesman Peter Griffin confirmed the airbag option was deleted from the range in March 2003.

At this time, Toyota slashed Echo pricing, added comfort-oriented features and also introduced safety enhancements including a lap-sash seatbelt in the centre-rear position, structural reinforcements to the front pillar, rocker panel and floor, and thicker reinforcements to existing panels.

Echo has since become a vital component in Toyota taking back, and maintaining, top spot in the Australian new-car sales race.

"(The passenger airbag) was only ever offered as an option and the uptake of that option was extremely low, so it was a case of simplifying the product range from our perspective," Mr Griffin said.

"The customers weren’t asking for it ... If the customers were wanting that option, consistently at a strong level, then it would have continued to have been offered."

This follows revelations that Holden quietly dropped active front head restraints from its Barina

In 2000 European NCAP awarded a dual airbag-equipped three-door Echo – sold as Yaris in Europe – an overall rating of 85 per cent and a four-star rating. This included 89 per cent for the side impact, described by testers as a remarkable result without side airbags fitted.

This is the second safety issue raised with small cars recently, following revelations that Holden quietly dropped active front head restraints from its Barina.

Mr Case was unable to confirm whether the hatch, which achieved four stars from ANCAP in 2001, would be retested.

"We would look at it on a case-by-case basis ... (but) we would have to look at retesting any vehicle where there is some kind of change to its safety specification which might affect the currency of the test result," he said.

Other cars examined under the latest ANCAP tests were the Mazda3 hatch and Mitsubishi’s Outlander all-terrain wagon, both of which were awarded four stars, and the Hyundai Accent and Nissan Pulsar small cars, which received three stars. The Kia Rio small car was the worst performer with two stars.

"RACV advice to consumers is to look for vehicles which ideally have four stars, and increasingly there are new cars available in Australia with five-star NCAP results," Mr Case said.

"There are many vehicles that are affordable and have this level of NCAP performance, so the challenge for manufacturers with results at two or three-star level is to improve them to at least four-star level."Among the five-star small-car performers are the Toyota Prius (with the optional i-Tech pack), Renault Megane, Volvo S40 and the forthcoming new generation Holden Astra and VW Golf.

Backed by all Australian motoring clubs and state governments, ANCAP crash test procedures comprise an offset frontal test at 64km/h, a side impact test at 50km/h, an optional pole test at 29km/h and a pedestrian test indicating likely injuries to pedestrians hit by a vehicle travelling at 40km/h.

In the pedestrian test, the Echo, Mazda3, Outlander and Accent all achieved one star out of a maximum four. The Pulsar and Rio were not tested.

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