The new Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study of headlight safety among sport utility vehicles was disappointing for manufacturers. Ford Motor Co.’s (NYSE: F) Lincoln division should be particularly upset. Its MKC and MKT were two of the three luxury SUVs received a “poor” rating, the worst the IIHS gives out.
The IIHS looked at 37 SUVs. Of these, 18 were labeled “luxury.” Other than the two “poor” spots earned by Lincoln, its third SUV, the MKT was rated “marginal,” a step above “poor.
Since few consumers test drive a vehicle at night before buying, IIHS headlight ratings help shed light on this basic, yet essential crash avoidance technology. Nighttime visibility is critical to highway safety because about half of traffic deaths occur either in the dark or at dawn or dusk. Differences in bulb type, headlight technology and even something as basic as how the lights are aimed all affect the amount of useful light supplied. Properly aimed low beams light up the road ahead without temporarily blinding drivers of oncoming vehicles.
Since headlights are not among the most expensive, or technically complex, parts of vehicles, it would seem all the companies, particularly Lincoln, could do better.
Lincoln is among the most troubled luxury brands. It sold just 47,062 vehicles for the first five months of the year, though that is a 5.8% increase over the same period a year earlier. Its sales are much smaller than market leaders Mercedes, Lexus and BMW. Notably the headlight tests for all these were “acceptable.”
Headlights might be a small thing, but problems there are a symptom of something bigger. The whole SUV has to be good, even the headlights.