DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co misled U.S. regulators about the safety of the roof on its Explorer sport-utility vehicle during rollover crash tests, a report released on Wednesday said.
The report -- sponsored by Tab Turner, an attorney who is litigating numerous product liability cases against Ford -- studied raw data from rollover tests conducted by Ford on the Explorer SUV in 1998-9999.
Ford provided an analysis of the data to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last March to contend that there was no link between roof strength and rollover-related deaths.
But according to Public Citizen, a non-profit consumer advocacy group, the automaker misled the safety agency by leaving out important information that would have contradicted Ford's position on roof strength and safety.
"Ford's presentation to the agency failed to include some very critical data findings," said Martha Bidez, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Alabama, who authored the study.
Ford told NHTSA that most of serious neck injuries to the driver dummy occurred before the roof of the SUV crushed in during the crash test, according to Public Citizen.
But Bidez said an analysis of data from the accelerometer -- a device that can measure the acceleration of various components of a vehicle -- shows that significant roof crush occurred prior to peak injury to the dummy's neck.
Ford said that years of testing show strengthening the roof will not affect the outcome of the crash.
"We've looked at injury and fatality rates in rollovers involving vehicles that just meet the federal standard to vehicles that have roof strengths that are multiples of the federal standard and there isn't a difference," Ford said in a statement.
"Changes to federal roof strength standards must be based on facts and sound science, not the narrow agendas of special interest groups," the automaker said.
NHTSA is on the verge of proposing a new roof strength standard. The current standard was set in 1971 and has not been updated since.
General Motors and other automakers have also fought attempts to upgrade the rule, known as standard 216.
Bidez and her associates got hold of the raw data after it was shown to juries across the country in lawsuits involving Explorer rollover crashes.
Ford is facing a series of lawsuits over alleged safety defects with its Explorer SUV. Additionally, Ford is facing a class-action lawsuit over faulty Firestone tires installed mostly as original equipment on Explorers.
Ford's Volvo unit, on the other hand, considered roof strength critical to protecting passengers in rollover crashes, Turner said.
Internal company memos show that there was a dispute between Volvo -- which was in the process of incorporating roof safety features in a new SUV when it was bought by Ford -- and the Dearborn-based automaker, Turner said.
"Ultimately there was a memo of understanding worked out between Ford and Volvo to help Ford in the context of litigations to explain why it has not historically taken the kind of (roof safety) steps Volvo had been taking," Turner said.