Hyundai-Kia, Volkswagen Lead the Field of IIHS “Top Safety Pick” Recipients

Korean automaker Hyundai-Kia and Germany’s Volkswagen AG are the big winners of this year’s Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash safety study.

A total of sixty-six 2011 models achieved the non-profit’s highest rating of “top safety pick” including 40 cars, 25 sports utility vehicles and one minivan.  Of those vehicles, nine were Hyundai or Kia models. The institute also selected nine Volkswagen or Audi models. No small pickups received the institute’s highest crash safety rating. No 2011 large pickups have been tested yet.

General Motors Company, Ford Motor Company and Toyota Motor Corporation each had eight models selected as top safety picks by the institute. Five Subaru models also garnered the “top safety pick” rating.

Over the past two years, the IIHS has implemented more stringent testing criteria which have made it harder for vehicles to qualify for the coveted “top safety pick” designation. A number of automakers have responded quickly and IIHS president Adrian Lund said, “Automakers deserve credit for quickly rising to meet the more challenging criteria.” He also said the more stringent safety requirements gives consumers “plenty of choices to consider” when shopping for a new car or SUV.

For Hyundai-Kia, the crash tests show that it has made progress over the past year. Last year, both the Hyundai Tucson SUV and its cousin, the Kia Sportage compact SUV, received poor roof crush ratings from the IIHS.   The automaker has also improved the roof strength of its Santa Fe SUV and its popular Sonata midsized sedan.

Over the past year, Hyundai-Kia has made significant inroads in the U.S. market. Both brands are now ranked among the Top 10 in sales and are taking market share from more established Japanese brands including Toyota and Honda. Both Hyundai and Kia reported November sales that were double the numbers a year ago. Combined sales for the brands placed Hyundai-Kia just behind Chrysler Group.

Volkswagen’s Touareg was the only large SUV to receive the IIHS’ top safety pick rating. Volkswagen’s Audi luxury car division was also a big winner with its Audi A3, Audi A4 and Audi Q5 all earning the IIHS’ top recognition. Audi of America president Johan de Nysschen said, “Safety stands at the forefront of Audi vehicle development, so it’s rewarding when an evaluator with the credibility of IIHS recognizes this work.”

The redesigned Ford Explorer and Ford Fiesta each earned a top rating. The Fiesta was the only minicar to meet the IIHS’ stringent crash safety requirements.

According to federal government statistics, front and side crashes and rollover accidents took the lives of more than 26,000 American drivers and passengers in 2009. Although rear crashes are not usually as deadly as other types of collisions, they result in a large number of serious injuries every year.

IIHS president Lund said, “From the start these manufacturers set out to design vehicles that would earn Top Safety Pick, even though we’ve made it harder to win.” The IIHS is a non-profit organization founded by auto insurance providers.

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