New crash tests show pickups with some of the oldest designs could struggle to protect passengers riding in the front seat.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tested 11 mid-size and full-size pickups and found mixed results.
"In general, the pickup truck class of vehicles is not doing as good a job protecting right front passengers as other classes of vehicles," said David Zuby, IIHS' chief research officer.
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By comparison, the IIHS said the Chevy Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra provided "marginal" protection for passengers in the front seat when the right front corner of their truck slams into another vehicle or an object at 40 mph.
Dan Flores, a spokesperson for General Motors said the automaker is continually working to improve the safety of it trucks. "GM designs our vehicles to protect the occupants in a broad range of crashes including front, offset, angle, side and rear impacts," he said.
The IIHS gave a "poor" rating — the lowest possible — to the Toyota Tundra.
A spokesperson for Toyota told CNBC that "safety and reliability of its vehicles is a top priority." He added: "We'll continue to look for ways to improve in an effort to exceed customers' expectations — particularly in new testing such as IIHS' passenger-side front small overlap (tests) for pickup trucks."
Why might some of the most popular pickups struggle with protecting passengers in some of the most common front-end collisions?
The IIHS said part of the problem is that some pickups have older designs that did not emphasize front-seat passenger protection to the degree it's expected today.
"We are reasonably confident that when those pickup trucks are redesigned, they will incorporate better protection for the front passenger," said Zuby.
It's hard to know how much the tests will impact the decisions of truck buyers.
Pickup sales have been surging over the last five years, as more Americans have opted for a truck instead of driving a car. Last year, pickup sales in the U.S. climbed 4.3 percent, according to the auto website Edmunds, while auto sales overall were only fractionally higher.
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