Automakers are paying more attention than ever to crashworthiness, but they aren't necessarily making improvements across their fleets. For example, Nissan improved the Maxima but not the Quest. Engineering changes associated with adding a fourth door to the 1999 Quest resulted in worse structural performance compared with the 1996 Quest (see Status Report special issue: safety advancements, April 24, 1999).
Another example is the Pontiac Trans Sport, renamed Montana ("twin" models are the Chevrolet Venture and Oldsmobile Silhouette). This vehicle still hasn't been redesigned to address structural problems revealed in Institute and other crash tests conducted years ago. The 1997 Trans Sport turned in the worst performance among all passenger vans the Institute tested in 40 mph frontal offset crashes. The occupant compartment collapsed on impact. Footwell intrusion measured up to 51 centimeters, contributing to forces on the driver dummy's legs and feet that would have caused serious injuries in a real crash. Neck injuries also would have been likely because rearward movement of the steering column forced the dummy's head to snap violently backward.
The Trans Sport has no great history of improvement in federal full-width crash tests, either. The current Montana design earned a lower New Car Assessment Program rating than the 1994 Trans Sport. What's more, some dummy injury measures were worse than in another previous test of a 1990 model.
Virtually identical to the Trans Sport/Montana is the Opel/Vauxhall Sintra made for the European market. The 1998 Sintra replicated the 1997 Trans Sport's failures in a crash test conducted by the German magazine, Auto Motor und Sport.
The German researchers reported that a 35 mph offset test "caused severe deformations in the Opel Sintra and significantly reduced the survival space, with partial collapse of bodywork parts that are important for safety." The dummy was wedged in so tight that it took 15 minutes to extricate. Damage to the driver door was so severe that it took rescue equipment to open.
In separate EuroNCAP crash tests of a 1998 Sintra, both front and side impact performance ratings were mediocre. The testers said this vehicle "was overwhelmed in the frontal impact: the steering wheel and the deployed airbag broke off its column and the driver faced a real threat of fatal neck injury."
Opel withdrew the Sintra from sale after these crash tests but didn't say the decision was related to the poor safety ratings. In the United States, General Motors has no plans to discontinue the Montana. Nor is it clear when an updated model might be offered with improvements that could earn a better crashworthiness rating.