WASHINGTON — Ford, Subaru and Volkswagen lead the insurance industry's annual list of the safest new vehicles, according to a closely watched assessment used by car companies to lure safety-conscious consumers to showrooms.
The Virginia-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded its "top safety pick" on Wednesday to 19 passenger cars and eight sport utility vehicles for the 2010 model year. The institute substantially reduced the number of awards compared with 2009, because of tougher requirements for roof strength.
Ford Motor Co. and its Volvo unit received the most awards with six, followed by five awards apiece for Japanese automaker Subaru and German automaker Volkswagen AG and its Audi unit.
Chrysler Group LLC received four awards followed by two each for Honda Motor Co. and General Motors Co.
Toyota Motor Corp., BMW AG, Mazda Motor Corp. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. were shut out in the annual IIHS review.
Ford's recipients include the Ford Taurus and Lincoln MKS passenger cars and the Volvo S80 and C30 passenger cars and the XC60 and XC90 SUVs.
Ford said in a statement it is "committed to providing customers with safe vehicles for a broad range of real-world crash conditions."
Subaru recorded winners with the Subaru Legacy, Outback and Impreza cars and Tribeca and Forester SUVs. Subaru was the only automaker with an IIHS winner in all four vehicle classes in which it competes.
The automaker, which has bucked the brutal U.S. sales market with a 13 percent increase during the first 10 months of 2009, attributed its safety success to a unique engine design that sits low in the vehicle chassis and moves down and under occupants in a frontal collision.
Tom Doll, executive vice president and COO of Subaru of America, said the awards were a "tribute to the engineering that goes into Subaru products."
Volkswagen scored with the 4-door versions of the Jetta, Passat and Golf, the Audi A3 and the Volkswagen Tiguan, a small SUV. Mark Barnes, Volkswagen of America's chief operating officer, said the "safety of our cars is of the utmost concern, from the initial design stages all the way through the maintenance procedures at dealerships."
Chrysler won the award for the Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger sedans equipped with optional electronic stability control, the Dodge Journey midsize SUV and the Jeep Patriot with optional side thorax air bags.
Scott Kunselman, Chrysler's senior vice president-engineering, said the awards underscore the Auburn Hills, Mich., automaker's "engineering capability and leadership in occupant protection."
General Motors Co. and Honda Motor Co. both received two awards. GM was recognized for the Buick LaCrosse and the Chevrolet Malibu while Honda won for 4-door versions of the Civic with optional electronic stability control and the Honda Element.
Other winners included the Nissan Cube, the Kia Soul and the Mercedes C Class.
The vehicles are selected for best protecting motorists in front, side and rear crash tests based on Institute evaluations during the year. The vehicles are required to have electronic stability control, or ESC, to qualify for the award. Earlier this year, the Institute said vehicles would need to receive its highest score in its roof strength evaluation to qualify the safety pick designation.
"With the addition of our roof strength evaluation, our crash test results now cover all four of the most common kinds of crashes," said Institute president Adrian Lund. "Consumers can use this list to zero in on the vehicles that are on the top rung for safety."
The Institute awarded its top prize to 94 vehicles in 2009 and attributed the decline in awards this year to the roof strength requirement. The Honda Accord and the Ford Fusion both dropped off the list because 2010 versions didn't earn high enough scores on the roof test.
The Toyota Camry would have made the list, the Institute said, if it had received the highest rating in rear crash protection. The Institute said the Camry's seats and head restraints were rated marginal for protection against whiplash injuries.