Detroit’s automakers are getting some help from the federal government, at least in terms of their efforts to find flaws in the new pickup built by their Japanese rival Toyota Motor.
The Toyota Tundra failed to achieve a five-star rating in head-on crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — tests that have given perfect scores to all full-size pickups made by Detroit.
Given Toyota’s reputation for building safe cars, the Tundra’s four-star rating is viewed by many as an embarrassment for the automaker, which has acknowledged the Tundra to be the most important vehicle it has ever sold in the United States.
“It’s surprising, because people just kind of assume they’ll get the five,” said Dan Edmunds, director of automotive testing at Edmunds.com, a Web site that gives car-buying advice to consumers. “I’m sure they’re not happy with that rating.”
Five stars indicate that the chances of suffering serious injuries are less than 10 percent, while four stars mean the chances are 11 percent to 20 percent. The ratings do not show how close the Tundra came to earning five stars — all consumers will see is that the Tundra rates one star less than its competitors, Mr. Edmunds said.
The government has proposed changes to its crash-test rating system because it says too many vehicles receive five stars.
“The Big Three are certain to try to capitalize on this from a marketing and promotional standpoint, because the Tundra is a pretty strong truck,” Mr. Edmunds said. “They’re going to be looking for a weakness to exploit.”
A Toyota spokesman, Bill Kwong, said the automaker “would have loved to see five” but noted that its own testing found that the Tundra meets or exceeds all crash-protection standards.
“If somebody’s tests show that our vehicle is not quite there, we need to go back to the drawing board and find out why,” Mr. Kwong said. “I’ll bet our engineering team is crawling all over this thing as we speak and trying to find out what went on.”
Detroit’s automakers began trying to pick apart the Tundra long before it went on sale in February. Recently a General Motors sales manager sent an e-mail message to dealers disputing claims Toyota makes in its ads for the truck.
A Ford Motor Company spokesman, Jim Cain, suggested that the Tundra’s rating could be incorporated into Ford’s advertising campaign, which compares the abilities of vehicles like its own F-series pickup with those of competing products.
“Why wouldn’t we?” Mr. Cain said. “They can’t beat us on capability and now they can’t match us on safety.”