DETROIT – Ford Motor Co.'s 2009 compact sport utility vehicles have earned the government's highest safety rating, with both the regular and hybrid versions of the Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner claiming best-in-class crash-test ratings.
The hybrids' five-star ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are better than four stars averaged by Toyota Motor Corp.'s Highlander and Prius hybrids. Ford hopes this will give its hybrids an edge with increasingly safety-conscious consumers.
"Safety is a top purchase consideration, second only to fuel efficiency, so Escape's five-star safety ratings and best-in-class highway fuel economy are a winning combination," said David Finnegan, hybrid electric vehicle marketing manager at Ford.
Ford is aiming to double its hybrid sales next year as it doubles its offerings with the launch of hybrid versions of the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan sedans.
Ford said it was able to improve the safety of its compact SUVs through the selective use of high-strength steel in the body structure.
"We've devoted many hours to analyzing and perfecting the body structure, safety belts and air bags of Escape and Mariner for better performance in front and side impact crashes," said Steve Kozak, Ford's chief engineer for safety systems. "We've taken our compact SUVs to the next level of safety and have achieved better ratings than fierce competitors such as Toyota."
Toyota was not immediately available for comment.
But analysts said the results can only help Ford.
"If you have a family, that is very high on your list of priorities when you are searching for a new vehicle," said Erich Merkle of Crowe Chizek and Co., who noted that the Escape in particular is marketed at younger, growing families. "It will certainly work in Ford's favor."
Source: The Detroit News