DETROIT -- Hyundai Motor Corp. and its affiliate Kia Motors, along with Volkswagen AG, had the greatest number of top safety picks in the latest crash safety study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Hyundai-Kia had nine vehicles that met Institute standards. This placed them in a tie with the German automaker and its luxury brand Audi, which also had nine vehicles among the winners.
Following with eight vehicles each were General Motors Co. and its Chevrolet brand; Ford Motor Co. and its luxury brand Lincoln; and Toyota Motor Corp. and affiliated brands Lexus and Scion. Japanese automaker Subaru earned five awards.
Sixty-six 2011 models earned the nonprofit agency’s “top safety pick” rating, including 40 cars, 25 SUVs and one minivan. No small pickups won the rating; large pickups will be tested later.
Tougher criteria in the past two years due to the addition of a roof strength requirement and electronic stability control prompted some automakers to redesign vehicles so they would score higher in the IIHS review.
"Automakers deserve credit for quickly rising to meet the more challenging criteria," said Adrian Lund, the insurance safety group's president. "That gives consumers shopping for a safer new car or SUV plenty of choices to consider."
Hyundai and Kia reversed poor roof crush ratings a year ago for the Tucson and its small SUV twin, the Kia Sportage. Hyundai also improved the roof on the mid-size Santa Fe SUV and the redesigned Sonata, a midsized car.
The Korean manufacturers are growing fast in the U.S. market where they both rank in the Top 10 for sales and are taking business away from established Japanese competitors.
Hyundai and Kia each nearly doubled sales in November from the year-ago period and their business combined was just behind Chrysler Group, which is run by Italy's Fiat S.p.A.
Chrysler added torso bags to its redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee to improve side crash protection. The redesigned Volkswagen Touareg was the only large SUV to earn a top rating. The Chevy Cruze small car was also a top pick with 10 standard airbags.
The Ford Explorer registered a top safety pick for the first time and the Ford Fiesta was the only minicar to earn that rating.
More than 26,000 people were killed on U.S. roads last year in front and side crashes and rollovers, government safety figures show. Rear crashes usually are not fatal but result in a large number of injuries.
The insurance institute is a non-profit research and communications group funded by auto insurers and focused on evaluating crash safety.