For many years, the auto industry lived by the mantra, “Safety doesn’t sell.” Today, however, picking a safe vehicle has become top priority for just about all buyers, whether they’re looking for a family van or a high-performance sports car.
The good news is that there are more choices than ever, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. A record number of products, 90 in all, earned one of the organization’s two awards, the Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+. A number of other models fell just short but still earned honorable mentions.
“With these awards, we want to make it easy for consumers to find vehicles that provide good protection in crashes, sufficient lighting and effective front crash protection,” IIHS President David Harkey says. “Manufacturers have stepped up to meet the challenge, and the list of great options has grown to an impressive size this year.”
Some surprise winners – and losers
Volvo, a brand that introduced the first automotive seatbelt and which has long been associated with safety, landed nine Top Safety Pick+ awards, more than any other manufacturer.
The annual IIHS announcement contains some surprises, however. The Hyundai Motor Group — including models from the Hyundai, Kia and Genesis brands — had more winners overall, 17 models took home one of the two awards. That included 12 Top Safety Picks and another five “plus” awards.
The 2021 IIHS awards list included two minivans, the Honda Odyssey and the Toyota Sienna, both rated Top Safety Pick+. The Ram 1500 was the only pickup to meet the group’s tough standards, winning a Top Safety Pick award. There were no minivan or pickup winners last year.
The Ram truck was the only winner from Stellantis, the company formed last month through the merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and France’s PSA Group.
Most major automakers landed multiple awards but IIHS called out two for dubious achievements. General Motors managed to land only one Top Safety Pick, for the Chevrolet Equinox, and one Top Safety Pick+, for the Cadillac XT6.
Mitsubishi, meanwhile, so far failed to earn a single award from the IIHS.
IIHS awards go beyond federal safety guidelines
The two awards cover some critical areas of safety, going beyond federal guidelines in some of those.
“Both awards require good ratings in all six IIHS crashworthiness tests — driver- and passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraints,” IIHS explained in a news release. “Award winners must be available with front crash prevention that earns a superior or advanced rating in both vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian evaluations. Last but not least, Top Safety Pick winners must be available with good or acceptable headlights. The ‘plus’ designation is given to models that have good or acceptable headlights across all trim levels and packages.”
As a measure of how much safety has taken root in the industry, 49 models earned the Top Safety Pick+ rating this year, more than double the number in 2020. Another 41 vehicles landed Top Safety Pick honors. All told, 90 vehicles earn one of the awards, up from 64 last year.
During the past two decades, the IIHS added new requirements, including the small overlap frontal crash test and minimum headlight performance specifications.
Twelve vehicles fell short only because of their headlights, seven because they didn’t score well enough on pedestrian crash prevention. Five missed on the passenger-side small overlap front test, and five fell short on crashworthiness, according to the IIHS.