Elon Musk and his Tesla Model S defied the odds and turned a profit in early 2013. Now the company is usurping naysayers for a second time with a better than perfect safety test rating.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has given the Tesla Model S a perfect 5-star safety score. That rating includes a perfect five stars in every subcategory without exception.
The NHTSA does not provide for a score above 5 stars; however, a score above 5 can be captured in the overall Vehicle Safety Score (VSS) where the Model S scored a record setting 5.4 stars.
To put his achievement into perspective, the Tesla Model S managed what less than one percent of all cars manage and then it beat those scores.
Based on the NHTSA assessment, the Model S is the safety road approved car to ever be manufacturer.
The Model S was rated against every major make and model approved for sale in the United States. The Model S is a sedan, but it also exceeded the safety score of every tested and ranked SUV and minivan.
The 5 Star rating from the NHTSA examines injury from front, side, rear, and rollover accidents.
The Tesla Model S has a big advantage over traditional gasoline tanks. Because it does not have a large gasoline engine block, the vehicle has a much longer crumple zone, which absorbs high speed impact. The motor in the Tesla Model S is only about a foot in diameter and is mounted close to the rear axle. Where a gasoline engine is normally placed, the vehicle instead offers a second trunk.
The Model S tested in the “good” category for the side pole intrusion test. It was the only vehicle to score that high. The vehicle reserved 63.5 percent of driver residual space vs. 7.8 percent for the Volvo S60 (another vehicle in the 1 percent category). 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. The side pole shears off or rips away because it can hit an occupant.
Tesla Model S Roof Test Breaks Testing Machine
During the roof protection test at a commercial facility, the Tesla Model S withstood so much pressure that it broke the testing machine. The machine placed 4 Gs on the roof but failed to crush the vehicle. Based on the threshold achieved before the machine broke, four Model S’ could be placed on top of a fifth vehicle and its roof still would not cave-in.
Tesla achieves its amazingly strong roof surface primarily through a center (B) pillar reinforcement attached via aerospace grade bolts.
A Vehicle Built For Child Safety
Rear crash testing was also put to the test, and Tesla worked diligently to protect children, including those in the third row children’s seat. To avoid catastrophic rear collision failure, the Tesla Model S features a double bumper if the third row seat is ordered.
The double bumper is used 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.
Roll Over Testing – 50% Better Than The Other Guys
Musk and his Tesla team have created a vehicle that scored 50% better than the competition in the category of “rollover risk.” The battery pack in the Tesla Model S is mounted below the floor pan, which makes for a very low center of gravity which leads to exceptional handling and amazing safety standards.
The Model S was tested for normal handling and special means and failed to roll over in all tests placed in front of it.
Gaming The System And Naysayers
It is possible to game the NHTSA safety testing to a point. Car manufacturers can independently test their vehicles for each type of impact and then strengthen the vehicle at those specific impact points. That practice is utilized by all major car manufacturers and yet they still fail to receive the same type of safety results.
It should also be noted that no other manufacturers have broken commercial testing equipment because of the strength of their vehicles.
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: