Want to know a dirty little secret about the car industry? A lot of cars are not that different from other cars. I don't mean designs look the same, I literally mean many car brands are exactly the same cars (frame, engine, etc, etc) except for small differences in things like the interior design. The term often used to describe these cars is corporate twins and these nearly identical vehicles are used not just by the car industry to sell different car brands without developing a new car - the twins are also considered the same vehicles by standards and safety groups.

Why waste money crash testing or certifying say, an ethanol conversion kit for a specific car when you can do it for a corporate group of cars? When we reported on our list of the safest hybrids, corporate twins was the explanation I got from Department of Transportation to why hybrids lacked roll over testing. In more recent communications with the DOT, I was told it's their plan to test hybrid versions separately and that they have hybrid vehicles scheduled for testing in model year 2008, even for passengers cars where the changed center of gravity in the hybrid would tend to have little impact.

I am not accusing anyone of undermining safety, fraud or even laziness by writing about this. It would be a waste of money if safety groups tested every car using tests that can cost a half a million dollars each, when the only difference is a cup holder and the logo on the grill. Also, most hybrid cars, until quite recently, had low sales and many groups did not test them because it would be waste of money. Why spend million for tests to rank cars, already certified basically safe, when the market for the cars is actually smaller than the cost of the tests?

I look forward to specific testing of hybrids for roll overs because I think there will finally be documented proof of hybrid's inherent increased safety when it comes to roll overs. Also, I am very pro-consumer and I don't think corporate twins are that great because they can be used by car makers to make claims that are not exactly true. Also, lack of enthusiasm by some over recent news that GM will release a new hybrid brand every three months is based on the fact most will probably be corporate twins.

The car industry, maybe more than any other industry, has created a way of selling that makes it impossible to tell from advertising things like which is the safest, most fuel efficient car to buy. Corporate twins are really modus operandi for the car industry and many other industries, and while we might embarrass Toyota a little by pointing out that Highlander safety went down a bit with our safety award, the industry will not stop making corporate twins. However, would you be in favor or something like EPA labels that included a list of the twin's rating instead of an explanation like "rating pending"?

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[Source: DOT]

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