NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Hyundai/Kia and Volkswagen will be selling the greatest number of safe cars in 2011, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Both manufacturers had nine of their vehicles appear on the Institute’s list of Top Safety Picks for 2011. The award recognizes vehicles that protect people the most in front, side, rollover and rear crashes, based on ratings from a series of tests. Notably, the cars on the list feature electronic stability control, a feature that significantly reduces crash risk.

General Motors, Ford/Lincoln and Toyota/Lexus/Scion placed eight cars on the list. Subaru, the only manufacturer with a winner in all the vehicle classes in which it competes, earned five awards for 2011.

This year, 66 vehicles, including 40 cars, 25 SUVs and a minivan, earned the award, which is a sharp improvement from 2010’s model year when only 27 vehicles qualified. According to the Institute, the rebound represents an adjustment to its standards, which were raised in 2009.

"From the start, these manufacturers set out to design vehicles that would earn Top Safety Pick, even though we've made it harder to win,” Adrian Lund, the Institute's president, said in a press release.

Hyundai, for example, placed two of its SUVs - the Tucson and Kia Sportage - onto the list by redesigning the roofs on 2011 models. Both SUVs earned a poor rating for roof strength, a test added in 2009, which had prevented them from receiving awards last year. Hyundai also improved the roof on another SUV, the midsize Santa Fe, and redesigned the Sonata, a midsize car that had earned a marginal roof rating the first time around.

Similarly, Chrysler added torso airbags to its Jeep Grand Cherokee to bolster side crash protection, while General Motors designed its Chevrolet Cruze, a small fuel-efficient vehicle, to outperform the government's minimum roof-strength tests.

The Institute has been naming Top Safety Picks since 2006. The list is intended to help consumers pick vehicles that offer a higher level of protection than federal safety standards require. According to the Institute, more than 12,000 people died in frontal crashes of passenger vehicles in 2009 in the U.S., while more than 6,000 died in side impacts, and more than 8,000 died in rollovers.

Other models receiving 2011 accolades that did not in 2010 include the Ford Fusion, Lincoln MKZ and the Volkswagen Touareg—the only large SUV on the list. View the Institute’s full list of winners online.

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