March 18, 2005

Korean automakers challenge safety study

Arlington, Virginia – Korean automakers expressed doubt over an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) survey that poorly ranked some Korean vehicles in terms of driver safety during collisions.

The study of “deadliest cars” consisted of those with the highest driver death rate in the United States, covering 1999-2002 model year vehicles rated by statistics gathered from 2000 to 2003. The two-door, two-wheel-drive Chevrolet Blazer topped the list, but the Kia Rio and Sportage also scored higher than the IIHS’ “deadliest” rating of 160 deaths per million registered years or higher, while the Hyundai Accent was reported to have a high risk rating.

Hyundai and Kia claimed the survey lacks credibility because it relies on small samples and does not account for differences in driver behaviour among different types of vehicles. They cited that drivers of expensive luxury sedans are generally older, while drivers of inexpensive compact SUVs are mostly younger males, who are more prone to collisions. The “safest” car in the survey’s rating was the Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

“The IIHS survey supposes that owners of cars involved in more accidents are more liable to die,” said an unidentified Kia official. “Let’s put it more clearly. There are 10 Rios in the U.S. and one driver died after an accident. Then can we say 100,000 Rio drivers may die if there are one million Rios? That’s nonsense. It would be right to say that some Rio drivers die in car accidents. But only a small number of Rios are being sold in the U.S. and it is impossible to estimate how many Rio drivers per million will die.”

The IIHS said it collected data on traffic accidents involving passenger vehicles and small-sized trucks and calculated the death rates of drivers for each vehicle. If one million Sportage drivers were involved in deadly accidents on U.S. highways, 197 would be expected to die, according to the survey. The study cited Rio as the most dangerous Korean car, with 200 per million drivers likely to die in accidents.

General Motors had previously released a statement questioning the credibility of the survey after its Blazer topped the list.

Hyundai Motor officials said the IIHS should have been more careful when conducting the survey, because collisions occur under many different situations.

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