The number of vehicles earning the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's highest safety honor more than doubled for 2021 models, even as the group continues efforts to strengthen its award criteria.
Forty-nine vehicles received the Top Safety Pick+ award this year, compared with 23 vehicles at this point in 2020. Another 41 vehicles earned the Top Safety Pick designation, bringing the total number of winners to 90, compared with 64 a year earlier, according to the institute's initial list of 2021 model award winners.
IIHS said it will continue to test models throughout the year and will likely add to the list of winners.
"Manufacturers are fitting more vehicles with headlights that perform well in our tests, and in many cases they're making those better-performing headlights standard equipment. That's why we've seen a shift, and more models are earning our 'plus' award than the base award this year," IIHS President David Harkey told Automotive News.
To qualify for a Top Safety Pick award, vehicles must have "good" ratings in all six of the institute's crashworthiness tests. Vehicles also must be available with "good" or "acceptable" headlights and have front-crash prevention that the institute considers "advanced" or "superior."
Top Safety Pick+ is awarded to models that meet those requirements and also have "good" or "acceptable" headlights across all trim levels and packages.
IIHS has been using the two-tier award system since 2013 as a way to phase in tougher requirements. For example, it added headlight ratings to its award criteria in 2017 and later started requiring the "good" or "acceptable" ratings for the Top Safety Pick+ award.
Hyundai Motor Group — the Hyundai, Kia and Genesis brands — was recognized with the most awards for 2021, earning 12 Top Safety Pick honors and five Top Safety Pick+ awards.
Volvo earned nine Top Safety Pick+ awards — the most "pluses" of all automakers.
Two minivans — the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna — earned Top Safety Pick+ awards, while one pickup — the Ram 1500 — earned a Top Safety Pick award. The Ram 1500 also is the only winner from Stellantis, the global automaker that formed in January from the merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and PSA Group.
Last year, no minivans or pickups qualified for awards.
"Both minivans and pickups have generally been unavailable with pedestrian front-crash prevention systems in recent years, and pickups in particular have struggled with our headlight evaluations," Harkey said. "We're glad to see two minivans ... step up this year, but it's still disappointing to see only one pickup on the list since it's such a popular category."
One vehicle from Ford Motor Co. — the Explorer large crossover — earned a Top Safety Pick+ award. In addition, Ford's Escape compact crossover and Edge midsize crossover as well as the Lincoln Corsair compact crossover and Aviator large crossover earned Top Safety Pick awards.
Just two vehicles from General Motors qualified: the Cadillac XT6 large crossover, which earned a Top Safety Pick+ award, and the Chevrolet Equinox compact crossover, which earned a Top Safety Pick award.
"Several GM models, including the recently reintroduced Chevrolet Blazer and the GMC Terrain, miss out due to headlight performance," Harkey said. "We've regularly seen automakers update headlights between redesigns, so it's possible GM could add to their award count by addressing this shortcoming on some of their models."
The California-built Tesla Model 3 also qualified, earning a Top Safety Pick+ award.
Mitsubishi has not earned a single award for 2021, the institute said. The Eclipse Cross and Outlander crossovers nearly made the grade but came up short in the pedestrian front-crash prevention evaluations, Harkey noted.