The Toyota Sienna and Ford Windstar are embroiled in a duel over safety claims.
Toyota brags in advertisements that the Sienna 'did better in insurance institute crash tests than any other vehicle ever.' Ford, on the other hand, boasts in ads that the Windstar 'is the only vehicle to ever earn the highest safety rating in both front- and side-impact crash tests.'
Both companies deny that consumers are confused. But Windstar Brand Manager Denise Orcher was concerned enough to send a memo to all Ford Division dealership sales managers noting the basis for the competing claims.
BOTH ARE SUPERIOR
Safety is a top purchase consideration for minivan buyers, both companies agree. So safety performance is pivotal to advertising campaigns for both minivans.
'Dealers are quite positive about the ad. It has a positive impact on showroom traffic,' said Jeremy Barnes, product safety and environment administrator for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. 'Safety is of paramount importance to the minivan buyer.'
Toyota and Ford are basing the competing ad claims on crash tests conducted by two different organizations. In fact, both minivans are superior performers in the competing tests.
Toyota is using the 40-mph offset crash test performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In that test, the all-new 1998 Sienna ranked as 'the safest vehicle that IIHS had ever tested,' Barnes said. The 1999 Sienna is an unchanged carryover model.
Ford is relying on the frontal and side impact crashes performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In January, the 1999 Windstar was the first and only vehicle to receive NHTSA's highest five-star rating for driver and passenger protection in both frontal and side crashes.
In reality, both companies are splitting hairs. The new Sienna edged out the top-ranking Windstar in the insurance institute's 1998-model-year tests, but both vehicles were ranked as 'best picks,' the highest safety award.
'Both vehicles are superior performers,' said Julie Rochman, the insurance institute's vice president of communication. 'Both are examples of how engineers can structure a vehicle to provide for maximum occupant protection.'
Insurance institute crash tests of the redesigned 1999 Windstar were conducted in late January. Results will not be available for at least six weeks, Rochman said.
NO SINGLE TEST
Similarly, the Windstar nosed past the Sienna in the NHTSA tests. The Windstar earned five-star ratings for driver and passenger protection in frontal crashes and dual five-star ratings for front and rear seat side-impact protection. The Sienna earned five-star ratings on passenger and driver frontal impact and front side impact. It earned a four-star rating for rear side impact, Barnes said.
'There is no single test in the world that can describe the overall safety of a vehicle,' said Ford Division spokeswoman Anne Doyle.
'What is important for the consumer to evaluate is how a vehicle performs in a variety of safety measures.'