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Nissan now joins Toyota in failing a rear crash test.

An independent crash test conducted for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that Nissan Cube models do not comply with a Federal motor vehicle safety standard that limits the amount of fuel that can leak in a rear crash.

Leaking gasoline during an accident can cause a fire if something ignites it.

It was not immediately clear if NHTSA has stepped upped its scrutiny of Japanese safety and compliance claims in a post Toyota era. And the safety agency will not comment on investigations in process.

As a result of the failed crash test, Nissan is recalling model year 2009-2010 Cube vehicles manufactured from January 30, 2009 through July 30, 2010. About 46,000 Cube models are affected.

Nissan said in a memo to NHTSA that its internal testing had not revealed the failure, but it could find no problems with the test that the Cube failed.

Nissan is the second maker to fail an independently conducted rear crash test. Last month after NHTSA informed a beleaguered Toyota that a Lexus hybrid model leaked dangerous amounts of fuel during a rear crash test, Toyota recalled 17,000 2010 model year Lexus HS 250h vehicles because they violate Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 301.

The Lexus HS250h is based on the European Toyota Avensis. European rear crash standards are more lenient than U.S. ones. European regulatory oversight of auto companies concerning defects is also less stringent than in the U.S. in the minds of some industry observers.

NHTSA, of course, is under intense pressure to prove that it is not the “lapdog of the auto industry,” as it was called by many critics during several Congressional hearings about Toyota unintended acceleration deaths, an ongoing controversy.

Toyota recently paid a record $16.4 million fine to settle a complaint that it failed to tell regulators of potentially dangerous defects.

Since NHTSA discovered this Nissan defect, it raises the question about cover-up fines. The vagaries in test results could end the matter after a recall is conducted.

The Nissan Cube safety recall is expected to begin on or before August 30, 2010.  Nissan dealers install “a special protector” on the gasoline recirculation tube at the location of the filler neck connector. This service will be performed free of charge as is required by U.S. law. Owners may contact Nissan at 1-800-647-7261.

Owners may also contact The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153), or go to http://www.safercar.gov.  NHTSA Campaign Number: 10V-330.

(See also: Another Toyota Recall Coming on Lexus Hybrids  and NHTSA Head Calls for Speedier Recalls )

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