Tesla recently claimed that the Model S is the safest car ever tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), receiving a score of 5.4. Tesla further claimed that the Model S broke the testing machine used to test its roof strength. Tesla says that what this means is that you can place at least 4 Model S’ on top of another without the roof caving in. Since Tesla’s claims, the NHTSA has released a statement explaining that they do not give ratings of higher than 5 stars [i]. Additionally, the NHTSA made no mention of testing equipment failure. This of course has lead to talk that Tesla has lied about the safety of its cars, or at least exaggerated. However the NHTSA statements do not necessarily contradict Tesla’s claims.
First, because the NHTSA does not ‘ultimately’ bestow a score higher than 5, does not mean that a vehicle's raw score could not be higher than 5. That score is likely a cut-off or a floor for the score of excellence, which the numerical score of 5 represents. Second, Tesla used the terminology ‘breaking’ when referring to the testing machine. Again, usually machines that measure forces have a limit to the measurements they register, or are configured to produce measurements as needed. Breaking a machine can mean that the machine simply stopped logging a measurement after a certain point. It does not mean that the Model S used it’s head-light-laser and melted NHTSA equipment, or flexed its sheet-metal-muscle and destroyed the testing machine.
There are few American companies that seem to generate as much hatred as Tesla motors. At every turn there seems to be someone rooting for Tesla’s failure. Initial anger and outrage was said to be from the loan Tesla received from United States government. After Tesla repaid the loan, it was said that United States taxpayers are still on the hook because of a $7,500 tax credit. Climate change doubters and the like will tell you that you, yes ‘you’ personally, will pay $7,500 for every Tesla Model S sold. As such they hope and recommend that Tesla motors stop selling cars to save us all money and keep the country from ruination. Get a whiff of this gentleman for example:
So here we have a car pushing $100,000 paid for in no small part by you and me, no matter whether Tesla paid back their federal loan or not. The small comfort is that we are off the hook for any default on that loan, but it would be more comfort if we weren’t all compelled—completely against most of our wills—to shell out around somewhere around $10K (depending on state) for every one that goes out the door. The more they sell, the more we pay... The only way to stop this craziness is for the company to stop making cars. If demand drops much, or California goes into a major fiscal crisis (they’re working on it), oddly enough, Tesla’s bankruptcy will save the rest of us some money. [read more]
An even more insidious creature is the scorned-mental-dinosaur-automotive journalist. He is angry that Tesla did not let him have first-crack at the Model S, and hell bent on revenge. Similar to auto dealer associations, there seems to be a 'just who does tesla think it is?' sentiment underlying a lot of treatment received from the industry. For example, the Tesla Model S did not even make the North American International Car of the Year’s short list. That's over 40 plus automotive ‘journalists’ who all managed their point allocations so as to deny Tesla even a spot on the short list. Thats incredible. Any car enthusiast would be hard pressed to name 5 vehicles more innovative than the Model S in the last 10 years, and that’s being generous.
A further issue with so-called auto journalists is that they do not seem to consider the Model S to be a real honest-to-goodness car. Indeed, they relegate the model S to the category of ‘dream machine.’ Notwithstanding that the Model S is an electric vehicle, a lesser-mentioned reason for the categorization appears to be the price of the Model S, typically ranging between $70,000 and $90,000. Auto journalists arrive at their categorization, despite the fact that a 3-series BMW which is often showered with accolades (sometimes deservingly so), can be configured to cost $60,000 and a 6-series coupe easily runs $90,000.
Who can forget New York Times auto journalist John Broder's questionable claim that following Tesla’s recommendation, he failed to make a trip in the Model S, and was left 'stalled on Tesla's electric highway'. The New York Times piece famously prompted Elon Musk to respond and release mounds of data to the contrary of Broder's notes and memorialization of his allegedly failed hike.
Musks response lead to the New York Times' Margaret Sullivan's response, where she stated:
Mr. Broder left himself open to valid criticism by taking what seem to be casual and imprecise notes along the journey, unaware that his every move was being monitored. A little red notebook in the front seat is no match for digitally recorded driving logs, which Mr. Musk has used, in the most damaging (and sometimes quite misleading) ways possible, as he defended his vehicle’s reputation.
Ouch. So what say you Elon Musk? We all eagerly await your response about whether Tesla's Model S is indeed the safest car ever tested, and if it indeed broke the testing machine. Oh, and remember, we love graphs.
[i] (http://www.nhtsa.gov), NHTSA Statement on 5-Star Safety Ratings. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is committed to improving safety on the nation’s roadways and helping motorists make informed decisions about new or used vehicles they are considering purchasing. The agency’s 5-Star Safety Ratings program is designed to provide consumers with information about the crash protection and rollover safety of new vehicles beyond what is required by Federal standards. One star is the lowest rating; five stars is the highest. More stars equal safer cars. NHTSA does not rate vehicles beyond 5 stars and does not rank or order vehicles within the star rating categories. In addition, the agency has guidelines in place for manufacturers and advertising agencies to follow to ensure that accurate and consistent information is conveyed to the public.