The federal government wants to expand the reach of its roof-crush rules aimed at protecting passengers in rollover crashes. But the move would cover just one additional model: the Jeep Wrangler.
DaimlerChrysler AG spokesman Max Gates says the company does not believe the Wrangler, as currently designed, would pass a roof-crush test.
Gates said in an e-mail that Wrangler's "sports bar is not designed and engineered as a protective device, such as roll bars on some sports cars and racing vehicles."
A redesigned Wrangler is expected next year, while new roof-crush standards will not take effect until the 2010 model year at the earliest. It is not known whether the next-generation Wrangler would meet roof-crush resistance standards.
In proposed roof-crush rules, "open-body type vehicles" with structures between the A- and B-pillars no longer would be considered convertibles. They no longer would qualify for the exemption that convertibles get from roof-crush testing.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's proposal cites the Wrangler as one example. But officials acknowledge they know of no other that meets the same criteria.
Steve Kratzke, NHTSA's associate administrator for rule making, says the purpose of the change was not to target the Wrangler. Other similar vehicles could be introduced at any time, he adds.
Safety activist Gerald Donaldson predicts automakers will "go nuts" over that provision. He is senior research director at Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a coalition of consumer groups and insurers.
Barry Felrice, director of regulatory affairs in DaimlerChrysler's Washington office, says his company has not decided how to respond.
Kratzke explains the rationale for extending roof-strength requirements to Wrangler-like vehicles this way: "If a vehicle has a fixed, rigid, structural member that's connected, it's not unreasonable for that vehicle to meet roof-crush standards."
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