DETROIT -- The slow-selling 2012 Fiat 500 now has another obstacle in its sales path: It has been tagged by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with a three-star safety rating, the lowest of any new model tested so far.
The two-door subcompact received four stars from NHTSA for frontal crash and rollover accidents but received just two stars for side-impact crash safety, the agency announced on its Web site, safercar.gov.
The tests gave the car a combined overall safety rating of three stars, NHTSA reported. The outgoing Dodge Caliber and Ford Escape SUV were the only other 2012 model vehicles whose test results have been completed and released so far by the agency with three-star ratings.
The crash test results and star ratings have yet to be released for the 500's primary competitor, the Mini Cooper, as well as such other 2012 subcompacts as the Honda Fit, Chevy Sonic and Toyota Yaris. The Ford Fiesta subcompact received a combined four-star rating, the agency reported.
NHTSA's side-impact crash tests involve both an impact with a side barrier at a simulated 38.5 mph crash and a second simulated stationary pole crash. Though the vehicles tested had curtain airbags and torso/pelvis airbags, the rear-seat passenger position was rated at just two of five possible stars for safety in the side-barrier crash test, while the driver's seat position achieved a five-star safety rating in the same crash test.
In the side-pole crash, which simulates an impact at 20 mph with a narrow, fixed object, the driver's position achieved a three-star rating out of a possible five stars, NHSTA reported.
"Development of the Fiat 500, like all Chrysler Group vehicles, makes safety and security a priority," Chrysler said in a statement, which cited the model's advanced safety features. "The company strives to continuously improve vehicle performance for third-party tests."
IIHS results differ
While the Fiat 500 received only a three-star rating from NHTSA, it was named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which also conducts rigorous crash testing.
Russ Rader, a spokesman for the insurance institute, said the physical barrier in his agency's side-impact test, which simulates a crash with a truck or SUV, is physically higher than NHTSA's, which simulates a broadside crash with a car. The rear-seat crash test dummy in NHTSA's test suffered damage in its pelvis and torso.
"That's why consumers should always look at both sets of test results," Rader said.
Through November, Chrysler sold 17,444 units of the Fiat 500 in the United States. The automaker reported 11,200 units in inventory on Dec. 1, a 173-day supply. Chrysler Group reported sales of 1,618 units of the Fiat 500 in November, the third straight month that sales had fallen from the previous month.