Toyota Camry regains Consumer Reports' favor after crash test results

Camry: Recommended again.
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Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misstated the Toyota Corolla's safety rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

(Bloomberg) -- Toyota Motor Corp.'s Camry, headed for its 12th consecutive year as the best-selling car in the U.S., returned to Consumer Reports' recommended list after showing improvement on an insurance-industry crash test.

The Yonkers, New York-based magazine excluded Camry in October after the 2013 model sedan received a poor rating in a new front-end test by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The 2014 Camry with a strengthened frame received an "acceptable" rating when retested, prompting Arlington, Virginia-based IIHS to give Camrys built after November its second-highest total rating in a report released today.

"The Consumer Reports recommendation is certainly a big thing for Toyota," said Jake Fisher, the magazine's director of automotive testing.

Fisher said he wasn't aware of any vehicle returning to the recommended list faster than Camry.

Twenty-two passenger vehicles, only two of them from a U.S. manufacturer, won the insurance group's highest rating of "top safety pick plus," after the new testing designed to prod automakers to improve protection in one of the deadliest types of front-end crashes.

Ford Motor Co.'s Fusion and Lincoln MKZ are the only vehicles from U.S.-based automakers on the list. Honda Motor Co., including its Acura brand, had the most top picks with six. Another 17 vehicles, including the Camry and General Motors' Chevrolet Spark minicar, were named "top safety picks."

"There are a few automakers who are really leading the charge," IIHS President Adrian Lund said. "They're way out in front. This is more about front-runners than laggards."

The institute in 2012 started adding a so-called small- overlap front crash test, simulating a collision at 40 miles per hour (64 kilometers per hour) in which the driver's side corner strikes another vehicle or an immobile object such as a tree. Since the test's inception, automakers that market on safety have redesigned models including Honda's Odyssey minivan to get a top rating in the test.

Braking systems

Sales of the Camry, Toyota's flagship model, rose 1.3 percent this year through November to 378,520, staying more than 40,000 units ahead of its closest competitor, Honda Motor Co.'s Accord, and on pace to sell more than 400,000 this year.

While Camry’s upgrade removes one shortcoming, Toyota has had mixed results in recent evaluations. The Prius v hybrid wagon and RAV4 sport-utility vehicle had “poor” results on the IIHS test, and its new Corolla got a passing “marginal” rating.

“Toyota’s willingness to rapidly address the Camry’s safety issues confirms its desire to maintain the model’s position as an industry benchmark,” said Karl Brauer, senior industry analyst for Kelley Blue Book, in an e-mail. “The new car market has never been more competitive, putting constant pressure on Camry’s position as a sales leader.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which conducts its own auto crash tests, is due to decide by the end of the year whether to require new passenger vehicles to have automatic braking systems.

NHTSA Administrator David Strickland told reporters this week that the agency may make that decision before the year ends. Last year, 33,561 people were killed on U.S. roads, the first increase since 2005.

The 32,367 people who died in traffic crashes in 2011 was the lowest number since 1949.

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