We found out a couple of weeks ago that the Tesla Model S aced the crash tests administered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. What we didn't know until Tesla filled in some of the details is that the Model S scored more than five stars on the way to recording the best result of any car the NHTSA has ever tested. While NHTSA's highest public rating is five stars, the Vehicle Safety Number it gives to manufacturers can go higher, and Tesla says the Model S scored a 5.4. That's a better result than has ever been achieved in NHTSA testing of a passenger car, SUV or minivan.

Tesla's press release says that after its internal tests showed that it would score five stars on government's crash tests, it addressed any other weak points it found on the vehicle to ensure it would get perfect marks "no matter how the test equipment was configured." It was already going to do well in the frontal test, as the lack of an engine allows much more leeway in creating an occupant-saving crumple zone. And the rollover test was aided by the battery pack being located in the floor. The low center of gravity meant that the Model S couldn't be rolled over "via the normal methods and special means were needed to induce the car to roll."

Nested aluminum extrusions along the hatchback's flanks took care of the side pole intrusion test, the Model S not only scoring five stars but, according to Tesla, leaving nearly nine times more "driver residual space" post-impact than the five-star rated Volvo S60. And when the roof of the Model S was tested for crush resistance, the testing machine broke just after it crossed the four-G mark - the Model S, on the other hand, didn't.

While we await test results on the Model S from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, you can read Telsa's press release with even more details is just below. We imagine General Motors' Tesla study group will be reading it right along with you.
Show full PR text
Tesla Model S Achieves Best Safety Rating of Any Car Ever Tested
Sets New NHTSA Vehicle Safety Score Record


Monday, August 19, 2013, Palo Alto, CA - Independent testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has awarded the Tesla Model S a 5-star safety rating, not just overall, but in every subcategory without exception. Approximately one percent of all cars tested by the federal government achieve 5 stars across the board. NHTSA does not publish a star rating above 5, however safety levels better than 5 stars are captured in the overall Vehicle Safety Score (VSS) provided to manufacturers, where the Model S achieved a new combined record of 5.4 stars.

Of all vehicles tested, including every major make and model approved for sale in the United States, the Model S set a new record for the lowest likelihood of injury to occupants. While the Model S is a sedan, it also exceeded the safety score of all SUVs and minivans. This score takes into account the probability of injury from front, side, rear and rollover accidents.

The Model S has the advantage in the front of not having a large gasoline engine block, thus creating a much longer crumple zone to absorb a high speed impact. This is fundamentally a force over distance problem – the longer the crumple zone, the more time there is to slow down occupants at g loads that do not cause injuries. Just like jumping into a pool of water from a tall height, it is better to have the pool be deep and not contain rocks. The Model S motor is only about a foot in diameter and is mounted close to the rear axle, and the front section that would normally contain a gasoline engine is used for a second trunk.

For the side pole intrusion test, considered one of the most difficult to pass, the Model S was the only car in the "good" category among the other top one percent of vehicles tested. Compared to the Volvo S60, which is also 5-star rated in all categories, the Model S preserved 63.5 percent of driver residual space vs. 7.8 percent for the Volvo. Tesla achieved this outcome by nesting multiple deep aluminum extrusions in the side rail of the car that absorb the impact energy (a similar approach was used by the Apollo Lunar Lander) and transfer load to the rest of the vehicle. This causes the pole to be either sheared off or to stop the car before the pole hits an occupant.

The rear crash testing was particularly important, given the optional third row children's seat. For this, Tesla factory installs a double bumper if the third row seat is ordered. This was needed in order to protect against a highway speed impact in the rear with no permanently disabling injury to the third row occupants. The third row is already the safest location in the car for frontal or side injuries.

The Model S was also substantially better in rollover risk, with the other top vehicles being approximately 50 percent worse. During testing at an independent facility, the Model S refused to turn over via the normal methods and special means were needed to induce the car to roll. The reason for such a good outcome is that the battery pack is mounted below the floor pan, providing a very low center of gravity, which simultaneously ensures exceptional handling and safety.

Of note, during validation of Model S roof crush protection at an independent commercial facility, the testing machine failed at just above 4 g's. While the exact number is uncertain due to Model S breaking the testing machine, what this means is that at least four additional fully loaded Model S vehicles could be placed on top of an owner's car without the roof caving in. This is achieved primarily through a center (B) pillar reinforcement attached via aerospace grade bolts.

The above results do not tell the full story. It is possible to game the regulatory testing score to some degree by strengthening a car at the exact locations used by the regulatory testing machines. After verifying through internal testing that the Model S would achieve a NHTSA 5-star rating, Tesla then analyzed the Model S to determine the weakest points in the car and retested at those locations until the car achieved 5 stars no matter how the test equipment was configured.

The Model S lithium-ion battery did not catch fire at any time before, during or after the NHTSA testing. It is worth mentioning that no production Tesla lithium-ion battery has ever caught fire in the Model S or Roadster, despite several high speed impacts. While this is statistically unlikely to remain the case long term, Tesla is unaware of any Model S or Roadster occupant fatalities in any car ever.

The graphic below shows the statistical Relative Risk Score (RSS) of Model S compared with all other vehicles tested against the exceptionally difficult NHTSA 2011 standards. In 2011, the standards were revised upward to make it more difficult to achieve a high safety rating.


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  • 155 Comments
      nassau
      • 1 Year Ago
      What do you expect with this administration's position on oil, coal and gas. Might be a nudge from the top, do you think?
        Matt Brown
        • 1 Year Ago
        @nassau
        Yes, when none of the facts support your preconceived notion, start making stuff up. And when all else fails, blame Obama.
        CoolWaters
        • 1 Year Ago
        @nassau
        Nassau is right, way way right. ( Moon landings fake too. )
        Hello, Brian
        • 1 Year Ago
        @nassau
        And yet, somehow, this "administration" is producing more BTU of it than at any other time in US history.
      Tina Dang
      • 1 Year Ago
      Another reason why the Model S is the best American sedan ever made.
        Tre' Howard
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Tina Dang
        That thought has never even crossed my mind. But, after thinking back, I have to agree 110%
        jeff
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Tina Dang
        Best Luxury Sedan even made in my opinion... foreign or domestic...
          GR
          • 1 Year Ago
          @jeff
          It's not very luxurious. I checked one out thoroughly. While I really like the car, it's not at Audi A7 level in luxury or refinement. Even Tesla claims the car is NOT a luxury vehicle but more a performance vehicle. I agree far more with Tesla's own definition of their car than one calling it a luxury car.
          ckm
          • 1 Year Ago
          @jeff
          @gr It largely depends on how you define luxury, I suspect. The Europeans & Japanese have their definition, the US has a different one. Personally, I think that a European 'luxury' sedan which needs to spend four days every two months getting repaired is no luxury at all.... It doesn't matter what toys, gadgets, power, luxury materials it uses if you can't actually drive it...
      FutureDoc
      • 1 Year Ago
      The NHTSA crash is lax... I will wait for the IIHS.
      mikeybyte1
      • 1 Year Ago
      They broke the roof crush machine. That one is priceless. I think Tesla has set the new standard for NHTSA crash testing: break the equipment not your car. All over the globe car makers are now going to try to one up each other by building cars that break test machines. "What? You broke the roof crusher? That's nothing! Our car split the side impact machine in half. Top that one!"
      NeoReaper
      • 1 Year Ago
      Cars that are Top Safety Picks from IIHS are already required to withstand 4 times its weight on its roof as well and there are quite a number of cars that have done this for a number of years already. Yes the Tesla Model S is safe, but it's only as safe as it should be for a car its price. This is just silly PR fluff for EV lovers. What I wanna see is the small offset crash test done by IIHS since it has a "frunk" for crumple zones. NHTSA results are far less meaningful (redundant) today since IIHS has tougher tests.
        car-a-holic
        • 1 Year Ago
        @NeoReaper
        Telsa states this is THE highest score ever for NHTSA. If thats true, nobody else has accomplished this; at least with NHTSA. Thats fairly more remarkable than you want to give them credit for achieving!
          NeoReaper
          • 1 Year Ago
          @car-a-holic
          No other manufacturer even talks about the internal tested result number from NHTSA. Do you really think Volvo gets a 5.0 while Tesla gets a 5.4 or do you think its something more like a 5.3 vs a 5.4? Like I said, PR marketing nonsense. Bring on IIHS's small overlap test please, I want to see the carnage.
          NeoReaper
          • 1 Year Ago
          @car-a-holic
          Grendal: Because you're under the impression that the safety of today's Honda Accord is somehow related to Honda's first car? You sir are living in a fantasy land if you think that's how car safety is engineered...
          Grendal
          • 1 Year Ago
          @car-a-holic
          And occasionally they make concepts and new designs that create a new bar. Then they trim them down until they hit the safety mark they are after. I'm not even saying that Tesla won't do that in the future. But for now, they are working in reverse from what the majors are doing. And of course safety is a priority with the majors as well. Selling more cars is more of a priority though.
          NeoReaper
          • 1 Year Ago
          @car-a-holic
          Grendal: You said the following: Regular companies are always trying to trim their designs to get the lowest price Which would be an implication that safety isn't a priority. The key to the Model S' "win" is that there is no empirical data from its opponents at all. The fact that this is thier first car has no relavance, what makes the car safe is that it is a NEW design This is just stupid marketing nonsense and you just don't see it.
          NeoReaper
          • 1 Year Ago
          @car-a-holic
          Grendal: If selling cars were a higher priority than safety, Saab and Volvo would be in better positions but this is not the case. Mercedes has the S Class which pretty much sets the standards for all future safety equipment today. Honda went out of its way and created something call ACE safety architecture which made their cars rather unattractive but safe. Safety is a priority for many companies but so is selling cars of course, its the careful balance that is important. My problem with your posts are that you are discrediting "regular" companies and putting Tesla on an undeserved pedestal.
          Grendal
          • 1 Year Ago
          @car-a-holic
          They deserve a pedestal and awards for their accomplishments. They continue to win them. This does not give them a pass for the future but they definitely deserve the accolades for what they have accomplished so far. Why do you need to downplay their accomplishments? It's significant and worth taking note of. That doesn't mean I have to dislike any of the major companies - I don't.
        GR
        • 1 Year Ago
        @NeoReaper
        While I applaud Tesla and their Model S for this high safety rating, I agree that acing more stringent IIHS crash tests would be more impressive. Cars that got relatively high marks on NHTSA crash tests got poor ratings on IIHS tests like the offset front crash test.
          Grendal
          • 1 Year Ago
          @GR
          And the word is rile, not rial. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/rile
          Grendal
          • 1 Year Ago
          @GR
          But it doesn't mean that they won't get a huge rating from the IIHS though. That is logic too.
          NeoReaper
          • 1 Year Ago
          @GR
          Grendal: You're right, it is definitely possible that they will score very well with IIHS and I will go as far is even saying that it's highly likely. Like I said, bring on the small overlap test!!! This NHTSA result and patting yourself on the back is just nonsense.
          NeoReaper
          • 1 Year Ago
          @GR
          Grendal: I guess you didn't understand my post. The patting youself on the back comment was directed towards Tesla. What Tesla has accomplished is making a safe car that earned 5 stars from NHTSA. Why are you so easily manipulated by smoke and mirrors?
          Grendal
          • 1 Year Ago
          @GR
          I didn't make the car. So I'm hardly patting myself on the back since I didn't do anything. What Tesla has accomplished is impressive though. It deserves recognition.
          Grendal
          • 1 Year Ago
          @GR
          How am I manipulated? They scored the highest on a measurable test. Would you rather I not believe that? Tesla: We intend to make the best sedan in world. NHTSA: You scored the highest rating of any car we've ever tested. Tesla: We succeeded in our goals. We can still do better and we intend to. Where am I being manipulated? As for the future, it's the future and hasn't happened yet. Next you will say how manipulated I am by the fact that the Model S won Car of the Year. And how Consumer Reports said it was the best car they ever tested. Obviously they are being manipulated as well.
          NeoReaper
          • 1 Year Ago
          @GR
          Grendal: Because it was informal and there is no number to compare to. No empirical data to back up "safest car" ever tested. All they did was tie the competition but they're trying to make it more than it is because its an easy way to get all the EV lemmings clammoring over nothing. I'll be impressed if i see them earn Top Safety Pick+. Until then, this is just PR nonense to rial up the retard fan boys
          Grendal
          • 1 Year Ago
          @GR
          See. Now you've just made an asinine comment. If someone disagrees with you, you take the cowardly way of calling names. That says that you truly can't justify your position well enough to argue it out. Well they are getting national news recognition out of it whether you like it or not: http://www.cnbc.com/id/100974771 http://www.latimes.com/business/autos/la-fi-hy-tesla-nhtsa-safety-rating-20130820,0,2050024.story And about 100 more stories and videos.
          NeoReaper
          • 1 Year Ago
          @GR
          Grendal: Because 5 stars is 5 stars. Show me what the competition did. If you don't understand this statement, then you are easily manipulated.
          Grendal
          • 1 Year Ago
          @GR
          How is it not an accomplishment when the system only has 5 stars but the NHTSA informally tells you that you scored better than any other car ever? It is a horn worth tooting when you are the underdog. Tesla is up against multi-billion corporations that sells magnitudes of cars more than they do. Those companies are the big dogs. It's like a little league team playing a game with a big league team and managing to win. You would say "So they won? It's a game where you can win or lose and so they won. No big deal." Best. Score. Ever. That's why it is national news. I will leave it at congratulations Tesla. Keep up the good work.
          NeoReaper
          • 1 Year Ago
          @GR
          Learn to read buddy: http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1086424_ntsa-rebukes-tesla-over-non-existent-5-4-star-safety-rating I'm not name calling, I'm just stating who/what you are LOL
        NeoReaper
        • 1 Year Ago
        @NeoReaper
        Correction: Small overlap test
      CoolWaters
      • 1 Year Ago
      Wow. You mean hiring the best people, and paying them well, makes a difference.
        KaiserWilhelm
        • 1 Year Ago
        @CoolWaters
        COMMIE BASTARD!!!
        wtrmlnjuc
        • 1 Year Ago
        @CoolWaters
        And making a very good product, yes. Tesla has no advertising budget because the Model S is so good it practically advertises itself.
      Carlos Cruz
      • 1 Year Ago
      So Government Loans do work....
        erjhe
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Carlos Cruz
        I just wish they'd work more often. Major kudos to Tesla for pulling this off.
        Grendal
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Carlos Cruz
        And Tesla paid off 24 1/2 years early too. Ford still has 24 more years on their $5.9 billion loan and the same with Nissan and their $1.8 billion.
          belfagor
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Grendal
          Grendal,you're compatring apples and oranges. Tesla's loan was taxpayers' money. Ford loan is private. Repaying it back, given the terms, would be plain stupid, in business terms.
          Spec
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Grendal
          No, dude, Ford received a loan from the EXACT SAME LOAN PROGRAM that Tesla got its loan from.
        jonnybimmer
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Carlos Cruz
        *can work.... It's not a guaranteed route to success (Solyndra, for an example, was a $500M failure) but fortunately the automotive industry has shown that when given a chance, they know how to make it work.
          jeff
          • 1 Year Ago
          @jonnybimmer
          SInce the program was started, far more succeed than fail... Most just don't make headlines one way or the other...
      Robert Fahey
      • 1 Year Ago
      "Yeah, but ..." --- All other car companies
      Brian Rautio
      • 1 Year Ago
      Is there anything that isn't perfect about this car? Their $30-40k market entry can't come soon enough.
        johnnythemoney
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Brian Rautio
        The interior is a bit of a lonely place. It's nice and the touch screen is great, but there isn't much else, not even to entertain your eyes, my two cents.
        Merc1
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Brian Rautio
        If they duplicate the same success in that segment I don't think there will be questions left for them to answer. M
      John Branco
      • 1 Year Ago
      That is until the NHTSA in the year 2030 tells Tesla to recall all 2013 Model S because the vehicle is subject to battery puncture from a rear end collion by a 12 ton Semi going 120mph and Tesla will need to mount a trailer hitch to protect the batteries.
        Grendal
        • 1 Year Ago
        @John Branco
        Wow. As if that same situation wouldn't cause a gas car to go up like a fireball as the gas tank was punctured.
          Grendal
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Grendal
          Sarcasm can be hard to detect at times. Either that, or I am just slow and dense.
          Krayzeeass
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Grendal
          I do believe John was trying to make a funny...
        raktmn
        • 1 Year Ago
        @John Branco
        good sarcastic Jeep reference! (although many probably won't catch it)
      EZEE
      • 1 Year Ago
      This is quite an engineering achievement. Crash testing is a dicey issue for a brand new company and new design. Slamming a car into a wall, offset slide, having something crash into the side - making this safe is not easy, and yet Tesla did it right the first time, beating out companies that are 100 years old. Compare to Fisker - beautiful car, but issues with how the engine was packed into the bay, heat dissipation, and of course, explosions... yet Tesla appears to be well engineered, well prepared, well thought out. Great job!
        brotherkenny4
        • 1 Year Ago
        @EZEE
        fires, not explosions
          raktmn
          • 1 Year Ago
          @brotherkenny4
          The metal body panels you are talking about are aluminum. It melts at a much lower temperature than steel. You can see the same thing in a lot of exotic car pictures of accidents where there was a fire. There is an entire website dedicated to exotic car crashes if you are curious. It should be noted that not a single Fisker Karma fire was ever found to be due to the electric drivetrain part of the car. Some fires were because of the 12V battery shorting out due to sea water (other gas cars also self-ignited in the same parking lot with their 12V battery doing the same thing). Other fires were due to the electric cooling fan for the gas engine, and also could have happened in any gas car if the same parts had been installed in any gas car. It turns out that the gas car half of the hybrid drivetrain was the half causing fires. Not that crazy, considering how many gas cars burn up every year.
          EZEE
          • 1 Year Ago
          @brotherkenny4
          I will be corrected...but...the metal on the car melted. The metal...melted. I mean, the effing metal...like, on the effing wheels...melted. That, is one heck of a fire.
          BahamaTodd
          • 1 Year Ago
          @brotherkenny4
          "Thermal events" is the term they use I think.
      RomanM
      • 1 Year Ago
      Tesla is so good that it even broke a testing machine:) Wow!
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