Image: Genesis sedan
Paul Sancya  /  AP
South Korean automaker Hyundai, maker of the Genesis sedan shown here, leads the insurance industry's annual list of the safest new vehicles, used by safety minded consumers looking to buy a new car.
By
updated 12/22/2010 8:27:13 AM ET 2010-12-22T13:27:13

South Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia and German car maker Volkswagen lead the insurance industry's annual list of the safest new vehicles, used by safety minded consumers looking to buy a new car.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recognized 66 vehicles on Wednesday with its "top safety pick award" for the 2011 model year, the most-ever awarded by the Virginia-based group. The number was more than double the 27 vehicles selected last year.

Hyundai Motor Corp. and its affiliate Kia Motors Corp., and Volkswagen AG and its Audi brand received the most awards with nine, followed by eight awards apiece by General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. The awards, used in advertising to attract car buyers, bolster Hyundai and Volkswagen as they attempt to build a larger foothold in the United States.

Hyundai's Genesis sedan, Sonata midsize and Santa Fe and Tucson sport utility vehicles picked up awards, while Kia was recognized for the Optima midsize car, the Forte and Soul small cars, and the Sorento and Sportage SUVs. Volkswagen won plaudits for the Jetta and Jetta SportWagen, the Golf and GTI small cars and the Touareg and Tiguan SUVs. Audi's A3 and A4 sedans and Q5 SUV also made the list.

Subaru and Chrysler received five awards apiece while Volvo and Mercedes had four. Subaru was the only automaker to win awards in every vehicle category in which it competes. Nissan and Honda had two awards each and Mitsubishi and BMW had one.

Hyundai said the award was particularly sweet for the Sonata, which also received the top score of five stars in the government's crash test program. The combination put Sonata "in a safety position unsurpassed in the industry," said John Krafcik, president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America.

Mark Barnes, Volkswagen of America's chief operating officer, said the recognition for VW was a "testament to our commitment to engineering safe vehicles."

GM's winners include the Chevrolet Malibu, Cruze and Equinox; Cadillac CTS and SRX; Buick LaCrosse and Regal and GMC Terrain. Chris Perry, vice president of Chevrolet marketing, said the award would build on "the already strong global safety reputation of the Cruze."

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Ford's picks include the Ford Taurus, Fusion, Fiesta, Explorer and Flex; and the Lincoln MKS, MKZ and MKT. Ford vice president Sue Cischke said the Explorer, which arrived at dealer showrooms earlier this month, offered a good example of the company's safety improvements, including inflatable seat belts and technology that helps a driver maintain control of the vehicle along tough curves.

Toyota, which has grappled with several high-profile recalls during the past year, scored with the Toyota Avalon, Corolla, Sienna, Highlander and Venza; the Lexus RX; and the Scion tC and xB. Toyota said its eight safety picks were "reflective of our ongoing commitment to developing safe and reliable vehicles for our customers."

The vehicles were chosen for protection in front, side and rear crash tests. To qualify for the award, the insurance industry group also requires the vehicles to have anti-rollover electronic stability control, or ESC, and receive top scores in roof strength tests.

Institute president Adrian Lund credited automakers for "quickly rising to meet the more-challenging criteria for 'Top Safety Pick.'" He said several automakers have requested tests for new models coming out early next year and Lund predicted more winners would be added.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Insurance Institute unveils 2011’s safest cars

  1. Closed captioning of: Insurance Institute unveils 2011’s safest cars

    >> good news this morning if you're in the market for a new car. the insurance i have has just given it's highest safety marks to cars, trucks and suvs . tom costello is in maryland with details on this. people need to jot down this information, tom.

    >> reporter: yeah, that's right and we're here because 00 dhyundai is one of its surprise stories. they include the sonata as well as the santa fe , the hyundai genesis is on the list as well as the tucson. this year every top manufacturer have at least one top safety pick, 66 in total, compared to 27 a year ago. after years of crash testing car after car after car, 2011 may go down as the year when cars, minivans and suvs turned the safety corner. with 66 models earning top safety pick awards for protecting passengers in front, side and rear crashes and now rollovers. while using electronic stability control to keep cars on the road. 40 cars, 25 suvs and one minivan.

    >> it's packaging 101. if the box doesn't collapse, then the cargo inside is better protected.

    >> reporter: this year hyundai and it's affiliate kia with nine pinners. and audi with nine winners. toyota and lexus had eight winners, last year they had none. in just one year the top safety pick grew by nearly 40 vehicles as manufacturers dramatically improved roof strength to with stand rollover accidents. experts say it's a sign all automakers are placing greater emphasis on safety .

    >> when we raise the bar for safety , they're matching it. they're putting their engineers to work.

    >> reporter: and cars are safer than they were even ten years ago. firefighters from montgomery county , maryland just outside of d.c. respond to emergencies on one of the busiest interstates in the country. they say cars with --

    >> when the car's traveling 65 miles an hour, so is the person. so that air bag when it goes off provides that cushion, that's that area of safety , that impact zone .

    >> the number of fatal accidents has dropped to its lowest level in 50 years to just under 40,000. seat belts, air bags , better construction and an electronic stability control all get the credit.

    >> vehicles today are much safer than they were just ten years ago and they're going to be safer in the future.

    >> reporter: here's how they're going to be safer in the future. look for lane avoidance systems that warn you when you're departing your lane, collision avoidance systems that automatically turn on the brakes. if you don't see somebody in your blind spot , you're warned. and dui systems, if you get in your car and you have had too much to drink, the car simply won't work. all that in the coming decade they expect to be in wider use.

    >> we appreciate all that information, we're going to pull those top 66 safety picks on our website. check those out at todayshow.com.

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