Toyota vehicles deemed "poor" in crash test

(CBS News) Toyota is facing a new safety challenge, thanks to a new set of crash tests. Two of the car maker's most popular vehicles received the lowest possible grade.

It is one more setback for a company that's had a year of bad publicity.

The Toyota Camry, the nation's top-selling car, has the highest government safety rating. But the 2013 model received a rating of "poor" in a new test by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The insurance institute's Adrian Lund said, "Toyota Camry is still a top safety pick, according to our older criteria. And then you have this new test which shows bad performance, and we need to integrate that into our overall evaluations of vehicles."

The so-called small-overlap test simulates a front-corner crash, similar to striking a tree or utility pole, in which the engine block does not absorb the impact.

An estimated 10,000 people die each year in front-impact crashes. Up to a quarter of those deaths happen in those front-corner collisions, according to the insurance institute.

Of the 18 moderately priced midsize vehicles tested, only two, the Honda Accord four-door and Suzuki Kizashi, received an overall "good" rating. Eleven, including the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord two-door, Dodge Avenger, Kia Optima, Mazda6, Nissan Maxima, Chrysler 200 four-door, Volkswagen Passat, Subaru Outback, Subaru Legacy and Nissan Altima four-door, were acceptable. Three - the Volkswagon Jetta, Hyundai Sonata, and Chevrolet Malibu - were "marginal." The only cars deemed "poor" were Toyotas: the Prius V, and the Camry.

Auto safety advocate Clarence Ditlow said, "The tragedy is it's simple and it's engineering 101."

Ditlow said this is another black eye for Toyota, a company that just a few years ago recalled nearly eight million cars after a series of problems with their accelerator pedals and floor mats. Ditlow said, "It's tragic that it takes this type of testing by the insurance institute to get the attention of the auto companies."

In a statement on the new findings, Toyota said, "We will respond to the challenge. We are evaluating the new test protocols and can say that there will not be one single solution to achieve greater crash performance in this area."

For Manuel Bojorquez's full report, watch the video in the player above.

Just two days ago, Toyota agreed to pay a $17.4 million fine for failing to report safety problems with their vehicles.

CBS News business and economics correspondent Rebecca Jarvis said these ongoing issues could spell trouble for the automaker.

"The Toyota Camry has been the top-selling car for the last 14 of the last 15 years, and this past month, in November, Toyota had the best month of sales of the Toyota Camry ... 373,000 of them were sold. That was up 36 percent from last year. So a lot of analysts are looking at this story as just as Toyota is getting back on its feet because all of us remember the major recalls in 2009, 2010, eight million Priuses recalled for the sticky accelerator problem. Just as they're getting back on their feet from that, here comes this with a new study, and it's not a good one for Toyota.

Watch Jarvis' analysis in the video below.

"They focus so heavily on quality, that's one of the saddest parts of this situation," Jarvis said. "Rather than growing market share the last couple of years, they've had to refocus their brand on quality and now they're going to have to go back to the drawing board because the Camry is this really important car to the Toyota brand."

This may be a chance for American automakers to take advantage of consumers' concerns over Toyota's safety. Jarvis added, "In particular, Ford, which the Ford Fusion rated acceptably in this study, could take the most advantage. They're also taking advantage interestingly of the fact that some people are out buying trucks again. So people are actually - as the economy improves in certain areas - some people are going out and buying trucks again and Ford is a major benefactor of that. GM is still the number-one-selling car maker here in the United States. Ford is slightly behind it and Toyota is slightly behind them."

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