Upset over Tesla claiming "Safest car ever" NHTSA released the following statement;

"No matter what, you can't say it's the safest car ever tested, just that it had the best overall test score of any vehicle tested by NHTSA." -NHTSA

Isn't that kind of like saying, "He's not the wealthiest man in the world, he just has the most money"...

ian | 21. August 2013

I found that quote a bit odd as well. What's the difference?

Maybe Brian H will chime in to clarify for us.

Timo | 21. August 2013

Maybe it means that there may be other cars with higher safety tested by other organizations.

TeslaWeasel | 22. August 2013

I interpret the NHTSA statement as meaning:

"Under the fixed set of crash scenarios tested by the NHTSA, the Tesla had a higher cumulative score than any other vehicle tested. However, there are multiple other crash scenarios that NHTSA does not test, and it cannot be assumed that the Tesla would outperform all others in these untested scenarios".

I guess we'll have to wait for, unfortunately, enough real world crashes involving Teslas to see if the "Safest Car Ever" label truly fits. Odds are it will.

Vawlkus | 22. August 2013

They're probably trying to cover against the (remote) possibility of a future car with a better safety rating.

Not gonna happen IMHO.

PorfirioR | 22. August 2013

Or they are leaving room for the Model X...

olanmills | 22. August 2013

Actually, I get what the NHTSA is saying and I do think Tesla went a little overboard with the way the claim is worded.

The NHTSA tests don't cover every aspect comprehensively. nwdriver93, a better analogy would be if someone got the top score on the SAT's and then claimed to be the smartest person ever. They could indeed be the smartest person ever, and acing the SAT might prove you're very smart, but it's not a definitive test for that claim.

Critically, the NFTSA doesn't test the safety of the rear passengers in their tests, from what I understand. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (independent non-governmental organization) has a different set of tests which cover things not covered by the NHTSA, such as the off-center head on collision, for example.

The NHTSA's response is correct, because they don't claim that their tests test 100% of every safety aspect, they are saying that acing their tests doesn't mean you have the safest car, and I think the main point of even making such a statement is that they want to discourage car makers from using their results in such a PR manner. Obviously, an automaker is going to tout a 5-star rating or whatever, but I can understand that NHTSA is uncomfortable with some slightly over-the-top statements by Tesla who is claiming the backing of the NHTSA results.

carlgo | 22. August 2013

Tesla needs to back off from some of their claims. Often they are transparently overly enthusiastic for the market that Tesla competes in.

This is not helpful for a company that competes in the high end arena and in fact probably gives a lot of potential buyers some pause when they read this stuff.

ian | 22. August 2013

+1 olan and carlgo

negarholger | 22. August 2013

From the Tesla press release it was clear to me that Tesla made the conclusion best car tested ever. However some press made it sound like the NHTSA came to that conclusion. So I think it is only fair and correct for the NHTSA to clarify.
The real gain is the layman's terms the Tesla press release explained the advantages of the design... today I heard the frunk referred to as a big additional airbag - if that picture sticks in the heads then the press release was priceless.

mdemetri | 22. August 2013

If the tests performed by the NHTSA cannot tell me which is the safest car on the road then they have much bigger problems and should be put of business. Either they admit that their tests are insufficient for the public to judge safety or Tesla has every right to claim that they are the safest car ever tested (given that they have obtained the highest score ever). The NHTSA cannot have it both ways.

PorfirioR | 22. August 2013

By the way, that quote was not from the NHTSA but from Clarence Ditlow from The Center for Auto Safety, probably trying to get some press on Tesla's coattails. I will let you judge the CAS for yourself:

The news article was cleverly edited by Jon Chang to insert Mr. Ditlow's negative reaction comment in between neutral NHTSA's statements.

Although I question that Mr. Chang ever got a direct quote from the NHTSA, this is all the NHTSA "said":

"The agency's 5-Star Safety Ratings program is designed to provide consumers with information about the crash protection"


"NHTSA does not rate vehicles beyond 5 stars and does not rank or order vehicles within the star ratings"

The "reporter" probably got those "quotes" from the NHTSA's web site. Which turns out he did: So this is manufactured news.

Neither of the NHTSA statements contradicts what was in Tesla's press release. On the contrary, I believe they were both paraphrased by Tesla's article. The NHTSA was more likely trying to avoid questions regarding all vehicles rated above 5 stars and posted that statement on their web site to deflect attention.

I do sometimes cringe when I read some of Tesla's press releases, and I wish they would tone down the spin cycle. Then again, the press did not have to go out and cut-and-paste the thing verbatim just because they know anything Tesla these days means page clicks, and that the next day they will get more page clicks with a reaction article.

Anyway, shame on Jon Chang for writing that misleading article, and kudos to the NHTSA for not taking the bait. ...and sorry for my long, rambling post.

Brian H | 23. August 2013

PR +1
carlgo -1

TM was specific about where the 5.4 came from. They also have inside info about the additional tests being performed by other agencies, and of course their own knowledge of "above and beyond" build elements they have incorporated in the car.

It is looking very much like Elon's statement that they started with "safe vehicle" as the design goal and only then optimized for performance, comfort, etc. should be taken literally. Many have ended up with egg and acid on their face for claiming and thinking he was blowing smoke.

PorfirioR | 23. August 2013

I am sometimes a compulsive researcher and have been looking for sources that discuss NHTSA ratings above the 5 rating, or how the rating is computed. The NHTSA must have been thinking about me when they made their statement.

So far, one of the documents that I found shows that it may be possible, if one tries, to extrapolate a rating above 5 with access to the raw data - which I don't put past Tesla.

Link to document here:

Page 8 shows linear and logistic regression graphs correlating Static Safety Factor (SSF) to rollovers per vehicle crash.

This other article gives a hint about how the SSF and other measures correlate to point scoring:

Unfortunately, so far, I have not been able to find anything more detailed.

I guess it is theoretically possible that, given the vehicle's resistance to rollover, it could have scored outside the point reference system, which is based on other "typical" vehicles.

That is just that one test. Similar test scoring inadequacies would likely include the roof crush test (no data above 4g), and the passenger cabin intrusion tests (extreme outlier).

Tesla's press release discussed how some manufacturers game the system by mechanically altering their car designs specifically to do well in the test.

Tesla played their own game with actual post-test data... a plan that depended entirely on building a darn good vehicle. The car is the car, and it did and it did. Any good rocket scientist/entrepreneur, given the raw numbers and the scoring guidelines, could figure out his own score compared to other vehicles. It is, as they say, arithmetic.

I think the NHTSA should actually embrace this type of bragging to encourage manufacturers to compete in safety. Wouldn't that be a good thing?

RanjitC | 24. August 2013

@PorfirioR +100 Good discussion rather than emotional BS