The new 2011 NHTSA crash testing program hasn’t been favorable to a number of vehicles.  In general, that’s a good thing.  Tougher testing not only means more distinction among vehicles, but also gives manufacturers incentive to make cars even safer.  In 2010 and earlier, most cars received only 4-star and 5-star ratings.  With the new tests, some popular models are getting worse overall results than before, especially in one or more of the five individual crash tests (two frontal impact, three side impact) that go into the overall rating.

We purchased a 2010 Toyota Prius before this crash testing had been completed.  While the 2010 Prius was a “Top Safety Pick” according to the IIHS and it also did fairly well in the 2010 NHTSA crash tests, Toyota’s track record so far hadn’t been all that great for the 2011 NHTSA testing.  Most notably, the popular Camry and RAV4 received very mediocre “3-star” overall ratings.  While the all new Sienna minivan received a “4-star” overall rating, its 3-star rating for the frontal tests (due to only 2-stars for the female passenger dummy test) was not particularly good for a model designed with these new tests in mind.

So, I had valid concerns about how well our new Prius would fare.  Happily, my worries were unfounded.  It actually did a bit better than before, with a 5-star overall rating.  Plus, 5-stars in all five individual crash tests, save the frontal crash female passenger dummy result that was 4-stars.  So, thank you, Toyota, and great job with the new Prius!

I was also happy to see that the 2011 Toyota Highlander Hybrid received respectable ratings from both the IIHS (Top Safety Pick) and NHTSA (4-stars overall).  This is one model I have considered to replace my Honda minivan.  I was basically >< that close to buying one, having talked to a few local dealers recently and also having scheduled an appointment for a test drive this week.  Within the past day or two, some local dealers started gouging on certain Toyota models, including the Highlander Hybrid, at least in some colors.  Apparently, this may be in response to panic over supply concerns, due to the horrific disasters in Japan.   Even though the Highlander Hybrid is made in southern Japan, numerous disruptions in the supply chain have halted production for many auto makers all over the country. 

I had decided to shop for a vehicle sooner than I originally intended, hoping the purchase might help the Japanese economy in some small way.  I had been checking stock and prices online almost daily over the last couple weeks to find one I wanted.  I haven’t noticed any change in supply in the Chicago area, based on inventory searches at the buyatoyota.com website and others like cars.com and edmunds.com.  Sadly, my informal survey of local dealers and online price quotes did show that a few dealers with stock raised their their prices significantly this week from invoice or even below invoice.  In one extreme case, at the Carmax new Toyota dealer where we bought our Toyota Prius, their “no-haggle” published price is still a little below MSRP, but rose $3000 a couple days ago on the same exact vehicle that I had been watching as it sat on their lot for the last few months.  While deals can still be found on light colors, I’m now shopping outside the Chicago area to see if the color I want can still be found around invoice as well.

Of course, these sudden “adjustments” will presumably not be going directly back to  Toyota Corporation or Japan.  I wasn’t originally looking to buy something until later this year anyway, so in the grand scheme of things, it isn’t an issue for me personally.  Of course, when it does get to later this year, who knows, I might not even buy a Toyota.  Sure, it may be simple supply and demand economics here in the USA, but it’s still sad to see dealers panic like this out of greed during a crisis of this nature.  Even if the supplies do turn out to be significantly reduced for a long period of time, such price gouging may hurt Toyota sales in the process and could make a horrible situation in Japan even worse!

Someday, perhaps I’ll make a great spokesman for whatever new vehicle I end up buying, at least in terms of safety.  For now, instead of buying that new car immediately, my wife and I are making a $750 donation to the Japan Earthquake/Tsunami fund through the Red Cross, matched by her employer.  If you make a donation, please leave a comment!  It may not be much, but I hope in some barely significant way, this makes up for the short-sighted actions of a few local Toyota dealerships.  We have relationships with companies such as Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Combi that are based in Japan, and I know they can all use our support right now.  We certainly hope the situation doesn’t worsen for residents or companies there.

(For Car-Seat.Org community members, there is also a Haiti earthquake relief fund accepting donations through the end of March and I am matching up to $750)