BY SARAH A. WEBSTER • FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER • November 24, 2008
Ford Motor Co. offers the most vehicles in America with top safety ratings, says the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The institute today released its "Top Safety Pick" awards list for 2009, which recognizes vehicles that do the best job of protecting people in front, side and rear crashes, based on the institute's tests.
Ford had more winners than any other automaker -- 16 in all. Honda Motor Co. was second, with 13 winners. General Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp. tied with eight each.
In all, 72 vehicles made the list, double the number of winners a year ago.
Chrysler LLC, based in Auburn Hills, was the only major automaker that did not receive a single top safety pick. The institute said Chrysler could have picked up five awards "if the head restraints were better in the Dodge Avenger and Chrysler Sebring, the Sebring convertible, and the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country."
The institute said the larger number of Top Safety Picks was largely a consequence of the widespread adoption of electronic stability control, which the government has required for vehicles by the 2012 model year. The feature senses when a driver is about to lose control and helps the vehicle stabilize and avoid skidding or rolling over.
The institute requires the feature to qualify as a top safety pick.
At Ford, officials and employees were celebrating the news of their top safety performance.
"We want to set ourselves apart from the other American companies," Steve Kozak, Ford's safety chief engineer, told the Free Press on Monday. "We're ready and able to compete head-to-head with the Japanese."
Last month, Ford also won accolades from Consumer Reports for the high quality of its vehicles, which the trusted magazine said are now on par with those being produced by Toyota and Honda Motor Co.
So even though Ford is losing money and is part of the Detroit Three contingent seeking $25 billion in aid from Congress, many workers at Ford report feeling good about the company's prospects.
"We're very proud of this," said Kozak, who oversees a team of 167 engineers around the world.
The team engineers a variety of safety technologies, such as Ford's smart Personal Safety System, which deploys air bags based on the weight of passengers and the severity of the crash, among other factors.
"We're doing our part to help Ford succeed," Kozak said. "We just need to get past the downturn in the economy, and we need to get past the perception that the public has about Ford Motor Co."
Ford's winning vehicles included models from all of Ford's brands, which includes Ford, Mercury, Lincoln and Volvo, as well as one Mazda vehicle, the Tribute, which is built on the same platform as the Ford Escape, which also made the list.
Ford's list of winners also includes the F-150 pickup, which is part of the nation's best-selling F-Series lineup.
In the Photo, the 2009 Ford F-150.
Honda's 13 winners included the Honda Fit with optional electronic-stability control -- the first microcar, which is smaller than a subcompact, to earn a top safety rating.
GM's winners included the Cadillac CTS, the Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook large SUVs.
In response to Chrysler's poor performance -- which also follows a poor performance in Consumer Reports' quality ratings -- company spokesman Cole Quinnell told the Associated Press that Chrysler vehicles are equipped with a variety of safety features and the institute's results "are just one of the sources of information about a vehicle's crash performance."Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Website