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Consumer Group Calls For Ban on Suzuki Utility Vehicle

June 2, 1988 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ The Suzuki Samurai, a popular sport utility vehicle, tends to roll over in sudden turns and should be banned, the publishers of Consumer Reports magazine said Thursday.

″That car literally trips over its own feet, and I wouldn’t want to be in it,″ said R. David Pittle, technical director of the non-profit Consumers Union, which publishes the monthly magazine.

In an article scheduled to appear in its July issue, Consumer Reports labels the Japanese-made Samurai ″not acceptable″ - the first time it has given such a rating to a car in 10 years.

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American Suzuki Motor Corp., based in Brea, Calif., defended its vehicle.

″The Samurai was thoroughly tested for safety, including stability and handling, prior to its introduction into the United States,″ said Doug Mazza, vice president and general manager of American Suzuki Motor Corp.

″We have absolute confidence that we are selling a safe and stable vehicle,″ he said Thursday.

Consumers Union filed a petition with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asking that the agency change its regulations to ban the Samurai, which the petition called ″wholly unsuitable for consumer use.″

A similar petition alleging the Samurai’s rollover problem was filed in February by the Center for Auto Safety, a non-profit, Washington-based consumer group. The government has yet to act on that petition.

Both petitions demand that a stability standard for vehicles that would let the government ban any car that has an undue propensity to roll over.

Consumers Union said the Samurai is the first car out of 349 tested in the last decade to roll over during a routine accident-avoidance test, in which cars are made to swerve to avoid an obstacle in the road.

At a news conference, Consumers Union officials showed a videotape in which the Samurai lurched onto two wheels and began to roll over when it suddenly changed lanes at just under 40 mph.

The car did not roll onto its side because it had been equipped with arm- like extensions to avoid a rollover. Pittle said the extensions actually improved the car’s stability by lowering its center of gravity.

The Samurai’s major competitors, the Jeep Wrangler, the Jeep Cherokee and the Isuzu Trooper, were shown making the same maneuver without losing stability at speeds over 40 mph.

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″We are not surprised that professional drivers can cause the Samurai or other motor vehicles to roll over,″ Mazza said. ″But the real results of the Samurai safety is proven on American roads everyday.″

Between November 1985, when the Samurai was introduced, and the end of April 1988 there have been 154,675 Samurais sold in the United States. The cars have a suggested retail price of about $8,500.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there have been 44 reported Samurai rollovers involving 53 injuries and 16 deaths.

NHTSA spokesman Ron DeFore said he could not comment on whether the Suzuki has a higher rollover rate than its competitors, but said utility vehicles generally have a fatality rate three times that of light-duty vehicles, such as small pickups, and that rollovers account for two-thirds of the fatalities in utility vehicles.

DeFore said drivers of utility vehicles such as the Samurai tend to be younger and more adventurous than the average driver of a passenger car, and therefore are more prone to accidents.

In its statement, Suzuki said that in all of the accidental deaths involving the car, police found that serious driver errors led to the accidents.

The company also said it believes the attacks on the Samurai may have been triggered in part by trial lawyers seeking to foster public opinion against Suzuki and perhaps the entire sport vehicle industry.

Suzuki also said it believes it has been targeted because the Samurai is the leading imported sport utility vehicle from Japan and has gained tremendous media attention because of its uniqueness and affordability.

The company said it would continue trying to determine the original source of allegations against the vehicle and why the company is being singled out. It will then consider legal action, it said.

The most famous vehicle rollovers involved the Jeep CJ5 and CJ7, which the Wrangler superseded in 1986. Chrysler Corp., which bought American Motors Corp. in August, inherited liability for lawsuits seeking nearly $1.1 billion in damages caused by Jeep rollovers.