December 29, 2003

New Ford F-150 pickup, Freestar minivan perform well in crash tests

Arlington, Virginia – The redesigned Ford F-150 pickup truck and Ford Freestar minivan each earned the highest overall rating in a recent series of 40 mph frontal offset crash tests conducted by the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Both vehicles, which are 2004 models, improved compared with their predecessors. The previous F-150 model was rated poor, while the redesigned 2004 model F-150 earned a good rating and the added designation of “best pick.” Ford’s previous minivan, the Windstar, was rated acceptable, while the new Freestar earned a rating of good and also is a “best pick.”

In addition to the IIHS high-speed frontal offset crash test rankings, the 2004 Freestar also achieved the highest government rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for frontal crash safety by receiving five stars for both driver and right front passenger positions. The new F-150 will be tested next year.

In the IIHS crash tests, vehicle ratings reflect performance in 40 mph frontal offset crash tests into a deformable barrier. Based on the results, the Institute evaluates the crashworthiness of passenger vehicles, assigning each vehicle a rating from good overall to poor. If a vehicle earns a good rating, it means that in a real-world crash of similar severity a belted driver would be likely to walk away with minor injuries. A “best pick” designation means the vehicle performed well across the board in the 40 mph crash test.

“The good crash test results of the F-150 pickup and the Freestar minivan mean that Ford has the top-rated full-size pickup truck and one of the two top-rated minivans in the Institute’s frontal crashworthiness evaluations,” says Institute president Brian O’Neill.

“The F-150 went from the worst performing large pickup we’ve tested to the best performing large pickup,” O’Neill says. “When we tested the old F-150, there was massive collapse of the occupant compartment, and as a result high injury forces were recorded on the driver dummy. In contrast, the compartment of the new F-150 held up extremely well in the offset test, the dummy’s movement was well controlled, and all injury measures were low.”

IIHS crash tests showed the Freestar minivan’s driver space was maintained well in the offset test, and the dummy moved back into the seat without its head coming close to any stiff structure that could cause injury. In contrast, the old Windstar had too much upward movement of the steering wheel, which can compromise the performance of the restraint system. Intrusion into the Windstar’s footwell area contributed to moderately high forces on the dummy’s left leg.

“The new Freestar and the Toyota Sienna are the only two minivans that are rated good and also are ‘best picks’ in the Institute’s frontal offset crash test,” O’Neill says.

While it’s unusual for the Institute to release crash test results for vehicles from just one manufacturer, the IIHS has a policy of conducting crash tests if the manufacturer requests it and pays for the cost of the vehicles.

The Institute’s frontal offset test into a deformable barrier is especially demanding of vehicle structure. The driver side hits the barrier, so a relatively small area of the vehicle’s front-end structure must manage the crash energy. This means intrusion into the occupant compartment is more likely to occur than in a full-width test.

“Good structural design is the key to good performance in the offset test,” O’Neill says. “If a vehicle’s front-end structure absorbs and manages the crash energy so the occupant compartment remains largely intact, with little or no intrusion into the driver’s space, then the dummy’s movement can be controlled, and injury measures are likely to be low. In contrast, poor structural design means greater likelihood of poor control of the dummy and high injury measures.”

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