WASHINGTON - A couple of the Big 3's newest products received less than stellar scores in their first crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The Oldsmobile Intrigue sedan received one star out of a possible five for the rear passenger in a side-impact crash, while the Dodge Durango sport-ute got two stars for the protection of the driver in a frontal crash and three for the passenger.
The Intrigue was the only vehicle of 24 tested in the latest round of NHTSA's New Car Assessment Program to receive one star, the lowest possible score. The Durango is the only sport-utility of 14 tested so far in the 1998 model year to score fewer than three stars in frontal crash tests.
Despite receiving only one star for the rear passenger, the Intrigue got three or four stars in all other categories.
In the tests, vehicles are given one to five stars for the protection they provide to the driver and front-seat passenger in frontal-impact crashes and to the driver and rear passenger in side-impact crashes.
While one star does not mean a vehicle fails safety standards, it indicates a higher likelihood of serious injury, NHTSA maintains.
General Motors officials have said repeatedly they do not believe the tests represent real-world conditions. And a Chrysler spokeswoman said her company would not use them as the sole factor in making a design or engineering decision.
'NCAP, in our mind, does not reflect real-world events,' she said.
In the latest tests, the third round for the 1998 model year, six vehicles got the highest score of five stars in at least one category. The Ford Crown Victoria and Volvo S70 each got five stars for both the driver and the passenger in frontal crashes.
NHTSA will test 56 cars and trucks in the current model year. The agency says that because some vehicles are unchanged from past years, consumers will be able to compare scores for dozens more vehicles than the number tested for 1998.
NHTSA says the ratings are valid only if vehicles are involved in crashes with vehicles of similar size.
In NHTSA's frontal test, conducted since 1979, vehicles are crashed head-on at 35 mph into a solid barrier. In the other test, started just last year, a deformable barrier is angled at 38.5 mph into the side of the vehicle.