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Utes still need work on safety, says watchdog

Crash course of action: Toyota's popular HiLux scores five ANCAP stars, but the Australian car safety tester says many light commercial vehicles have room for improvement.

Safety upgrade for Toyota’s HiLux highlights more could be done

Toyota logo5 Nov 2013

AUSTRALIA’S crash test watchdog has warned that light commercial vehicle safety still needs work despite Toyota’s HiLux receiving a significant upgrade last month.

Toyota announced in late-September that four-wheel-drive versions of its HiLux ute had stepped up to meet the top five-star Australasian New Car Assessment Program crash rating – a rating that ANCAP chairman Lauchlan McIntosh said could have arrived a lot earlier.

However, Mr McIntosh said low crash performance ratings were still an issue for the light commercial vehicle sector, which should also have potentially life-saving electronic stability control mandated – just like passenger cars.

As of the start of this month, car-makers are not allowed to import passenger vehicles that do not have electronic stability control fitted, although brands importing light commercial vehicles such as utes do not have to include it.

ESC, as the technology is known, can help a vehicle recover from an uncontrolled skid, reducing the risk of death and serious injury.

Toyota’s improvements to the off-road versions of the HiLux – other models maintain a four-star rating – include better side-impact protection and even small things such as an alarm that sounds and flashes if the driver has not fastened the seatbelt.

However, Mr McIntosh said Toyota’s timing of its announcement as fleets start to favour work vehicles with five-star crash ratings, was a motivating factor behind the timing of Toyota’s announcement.

“They (Toyota) have a whole raft of other (safety) technologies in their market in the US,” Mr McIntosh said.

“I think the same goes for all the manufacturers – there's been a de-speccing of cars for certain markets and waiting for particular regulations.

“This is very surprising, particularly given the fact that they (Toyota) spend so much money on research and so much money on inventing a raft of new technologies,” Mr McIntosh said.

“There seems to be some caution amongst manufacturers for saying we've introduced a new technology.

“If they have a new environmental technology, they shout it from the rooftops.

They're reluctant to do so for the safety ones.

“Why they hold things back is an absolute mystery.”

The monthly VFACTS data for new vehicle sales is due out today, but data gathered to the end of September show the trade ute market in Australia is growing, mainly thanks to strong interest in off-road friendly 4x4 models.

More than 30,000 Toyota-badged HiLux utes have rolled out of showrooms and onto worksites and driveways around Australia – selling almost two to one over its nearest rival, the four star-rated Nissan’s Navara.

Off-road styled utes with the top five-star picks for crash rating – the likes of the Ford Ranger and its Mazda BT-50 twin, Holden’s Colorado and the Volkswagen Amarok – are all tracking ahead of their 2012 sales figures to the end of September.

Mr McIntosh said it was time to mandate ESC for commercial vehicles, if only to help buyers separate cheap utes from comparing themselves with more expensive ones with better occupant protection.

“We would like to see that happen,” he said. “Again, in order to get a five-star light commercial vehicle, you've got to have ESC.

“So we now have a situation where most of the light commercial vehicles from the popular brands do have it.

“At the bottom end where people are selling cheap utilities and saying these are better than something else, it's a pity it is not being mandated.

“I can't see any reason for the mandate not to be extended to those light commercial vehicles,” he said.

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