-- December 9, 2011 - 10:19 am ET
UPDATED: 12/9/11 2:59 pm ET
DETROIT -- The slow-selling 2012 Fiat 500 now has another obstacle in its
sales path: It has been tagged by the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration with a three-star safety rating, the lowest of any new model
tested so far.
The two-door subcompact received four stars from NHTSA for frontal crash and
rollover accidents but received just two stars for side-impact crash safety,
the agency announced on its Web site, safercar.gov.
The tests gave the car a combined overall safety rating of three stars,
NHTSA reported. The outgoing Dodge Caliber and Ford Escape SUV were the only
other 2012 model vehicles whose test results have been completed and
released so far by the agency with three-star ratings.
The crash test results and star ratings have yet to be released for the
500's primary competitor, the Mini Cooper, as well as such other 2012
subcompacts as the Honda Fit, Chevy Sonic and Toyota Yaris. The Ford Fiesta
subcompact received a combined four-star rating, the agency reported.
NHTSA's side-impact crash tests involve both an impact with a side barrier
at a simulated 38.5 mph crash and a second simulated stationary pole crash.
Though the vehicles tested had curtain airbags and torso/pelvis airbags, the
rear-seat passenger position was rated at just two of five possible stars
for safety in the side-barrier crash test, while the driver's seat position
achieved a five-star safety rating in the same crash test.
In the side-pole crash, which simulates an impact at 20 mph with a narrow,
fixed object, the driver's position achieved a three-star rating out of a
possible five stars, NHSTA reported.
"Development of the Fiat 500, like all Chrysler Group vehicles, makes safety
and security a priority," Chrysler said in a statement, which cited the
model's advanced safety features. "The company strives to continuously
improve vehicle performance for third-party tests."
IIHS results differ
While the Fiat 500 received only a three-star rating from NHTSA, it was
named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which
also conducts rigorous crash testing.
Russ Rader, a spokesman for the insurance institute, said the physical
barrier in his agency's side-impact test, which simulates a crash with a
truck or SUV, is physically higher than NHTSA's, which simulates a broadside
crash with a car. The rear-seat crash test dummy in NHTSA's test suffered
damage in its pelvis and torso.
"That's why consumers should always look at both sets of test results,"
Through November, Chrysler sold 17,444 units of the Fiat 500 in the United
States. The automaker reported 11,200 units in inventory on Dec. 1, a
173-day supply. Chrysler Group reported sales of 1,618 units of the Fiat 500
in November, the third straight month that sales had fallen from the
CHRYSLER'S STATEMENT IN RESPONSE TO NHTSA RATING:
Development of the Fiat 500, like all Chrysler Group LLC vehicles, makes
safety and security a priority. In fact, the Fiat 500 features more than 35
safety and security features including: driver and front-passenger advanced
multi-stage air bags, driver's knee air bag, full-length side-curtain air
bags and standard seat-mounted side pelvic-thorax air bags, all to offer
enhanced occupant protection to all occupants in the event of a collision.
In addition, the company strives to continuously improve vehicle performance
for third-party tests. We do know that the 2012 Fiat 500 has been named a
"Top Safety Pick" for 2011 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
(IIHS). The IIHS recognizes vehicles that demonstrate "good" performance in
front, side, rollover and rear crash test evaluations performed at its
Vehicle Research Center.