Ford cars fare badly in crash safety study: Company dismisses report on accident injuries as inadequate and misleading

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FORD, Britain's biggest motor manufacturer, last night headed off criticism of its range after a Department of Transport report found that nearly all its models had safety records below the national average.

The report, the first of its kind, was described by the company as 'inadequate', a view shared by consumer and motoring organisations which warned that the department's information was potentially misleading.

Kenneth Carlisle, Minister for Roads and Traffic, initiated publication of statistics culled from 71,000 accidents during 1989, 1990 and 1991 in a leaflet for consumers entitled Choose Safety. The leaflet is designed to encourage motorists to seek out safety features when buying a car, demonstrating the likelihood of injury from crashing in a particular vehicle.

According to the statistics - which cover models to December 1991, many of which have been discontinued - the Ford Escort/Orion, Sierra, Sapphire and Granada all fell below the average safety levels established by DoT researchers. Only the Fiesta was placed as average, although all Ford's vehicles conformed to or exceeded safety legislation.

Nissan also fared badly. Models of its Micra, Sunny/Cherry and Stanza, again up to December 1991, all fell below average. Other poor performers were the Rover Mini, Triumph Acclaim, Toyota Carina, Citroen 2CV and Vauxhall Carlton.

Ford, which sold 353,000 cars, or 22 per cent of the market, hit back at the report yesterday, arguing that it concentrated on injuries rather than accidents. Drivers who were involved in an accident but escaped injury were not included in the statistics.

John Gardiner, a Ford spokesman, said the report was out of date: 'The Sierra has now been replaced by the Mondeo, which has very high safety standards, including driver's-side air bags. The new Escort and Orion were introduced in 1990 with extra crumple zones, soft steering wheels, side-impact bars and so on. The Orion also has seatbelt pre-tensioners.'

Nissan, which sold 74,188 cars, a 4.7 per cent market share, said the leaflet was 'an interesting exercise' but a spokeswoman also argued that it was out of date. 'The Micra, which is described in the leaflet as being below average, has been re- designed and was actually voted the European Car of the Year this year,' she said.

Launching the leaflet, which will be distributed through Halfords, the motor products store chain, Ian Jordan, head of the Department of Transport's safety division, said: 'This is not a league table and it is not perfect and we will want to produce further and more refined versions. No one is saying that any one model is more accident prone than another.'