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GM's Saturn Vue probed after wheels collapse

DETROIT, July 27, 2004; Reuters reported that the left rear wheel on two Saturn Vue sport utility vehicles collapsed during rollover tests, prompting U.S. safety regulators to open a defect investigation into the General Motors Corp. SUV, federal officials said on Tuesday.

The collapse of the wheels, caused by a broken suspension, occurred last month while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted a "dynamic rollover" test on two- and four-wheel drive versions of the Vue. The suspensions failed during a sharp turn at 45 miles per hour (72 km per hour).

The federal agency said it had opened a "preliminary evaluation" of the SUV, a step that often precedes a recall.

"There's no plans to recall the vehicle at this time," GM spokesman Jim Schell said.

NHTSA said it had received one consumer complaint of a similar wheel collapse when the driver tried to recover after briefly driving off the road. The left rear wheel bent underneath the vehicle, resulting in a rollover, NHTSA said.

The investigation covers Vue SUVs from the 2002-2004 model years. The Vue has been the one bright spot in the Saturn line-up this year, with U.S. sales up 16.6 percent to 48,279 units in the first six months.

NHTSA has also upgraded a probe into Kia Motors Corp.'s 2001 model year Rio small car, following 30 reports of wheel fractures and three allegations of a wheel coming off the vehicle. Kia has paid 576 warranty claims for wheel replacements on the Rio, the U.S. agency said.

During a five-month period in 2000, wheels on the Rio were manufactured using a tool that could cause irregularities, which could result in cracks, NHTSA said.