Op-Ed: NHTSA Takes Aim at Tesla With Updated Guidelines; Tesla Model S Remains Safest Vehicle Ever Tested

NOV 22 2013 BY ERIC LOVEDAY 17

Tesla's Public Advertising Makes No Mention of the 5.4 VSS Score That the NHTSA Doesn't Want Out There

Tesla’s Public Advertising Makes No Mention of the 5.4 VSS Score That the NHTSA Doesn’t Want Out There

Oh the joys of being an investigative journalist.

Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S

I continue to stand behind Tesla Motors on this one and I firmly believe that the NHTSA has an axe to grind with Tesla Motors.

Remember when the NHTSA went on record saying that the Agency, not Tesla, requested the Model S investigation?  That’s disputable, but the following is not.

From Tesla Motors:

“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.”

Yes, that’s from the Tesla Motors’ press release touting the “Tesla Model S Achieves Best Safety Rating of Any Car Ever Tested.

We thoroughly explained (beaten to death, some would say) why Tesla was right in making that statement several months ago (see the various links below):

This Data is Provided Only to the Automaker by thee NHTSA

This Data is Provided Only to the Automaker by thee NHTSA

But the NHTSA continues to take issue with this 5-plus star mention from Tesla Motors.  Even Tesla specifically says that the “NHTSA does not publish a star rating above 5,” so the automaker is making it clear that the 5.4 figure does not come from published NHTSA results.  However, the 5.4 figure does come from the NHTSA (sent from the Agency only to the automaker), it’s just that the NHTSA doesn’t allow automakers to discuss these figures.  This 5.4 score is captured in the NHTSA’s Vehicle Safety Score (VSS), which isn’t the same as the 5-star figure released publicly by the NHTSA.  Again, Tesla noted this in the initial press release:

Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S

“…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.”

But still, the NHTSA isn’t pleased.  Why not update our guidelines to take direct aim at Tesla, says the NHTSA (no, the Agency didn’t say that, but the updated guidelines show that Tesla is directly being called out).

Here’s a look at the section of note in the updated NHTSA guidelines:

Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S

“The updated guidelines now explicitly state that ratings are always whole numbers and that NHTSA does not award a rating higher than 5 stars. Manufacturers or advertising agencies, therefore, should not advertise ratings with decimal points or ratings over 5 stars, and advertisers who claim more than 5 stars are misleading the public.”

Is it not obvious that the NHTSA is still upset over Tesla’s single mention of that 5.4 VSS score?

Regardless of what the NHTSA says, the Model S still scored 5 stars in published results and 5.4 in its VSS score.  Nothing will ever change that.  The Model is still the safest vehicle ever tested by the NHTSA, it’s just that the NHTSA doesn’t want Tesla to mention that.

NHTSA Press Release Dated November 20, 2013 Posted in its Entirety Below:

Issues updated guidelines for advertising vehicle safety ratings to the public

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) today announced the lineup of model year 2014 passenger vehicles that will be tested as part of the agency’s 5-Star Safety Ratings Program and unveiled updated advertising guidelines for vehicle manufacturers, dealers, and advertising agencies.

“Safety is our highest priority, and we’re always working to ensure consumers have the information they need to buy safe and drive safe,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “With today’s announcement, we are continuing to provide consumers with valuable information through our world-renowned 5-star rating program so they can make more-informed car buying decisions.”

NHTSA’s 5-Star Safety Ratings Program allows consumers to search crash test ratings and make informed purchasing decisions. Each vehicle tested can receive safety ratings in a frontal crash, side crash, and rollover resistance, in addition to an overall vehicle rating. One star represents the lowest score and five stars represents the highest – More Stars. Safer Cars. The program also highlights advanced crash-avoidance technologies, such as lane departure warning, forward collision warning, and rearview video systems, which manufacturers are voluntarily installing in vehicles to help prevent crashes.

“Our 5-Star Safety Ratings Program serves as one of the most trusted and reliable resources to help the driving public select vehicles based on unbiased safety ratings,”said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “That’s why today we released updated guidelines aimed at ensuring consumers receive accurate and consistent information regarding vehicle safety ratings.”

The updated guidelines now explicitly state that ratings are always whole numbers and that NHTSA does not award a rating higher than 5 stars. Manufacturers or advertising agencies, therefore, should not advertise ratings with decimal points or ratings over 5 stars, and advertisers who claim more than 5 stars are misleading the public. The guidelines also clarify that advanced technologies are not part of the star ratings. Advertisements that do not conform to these guidelines may result in “Buyer Alert”warnings, removal from the ratings program or referral to other federal or state authorities for appropriate action.

NHTSA plans to rate approximately 87 percent of model year 2014 vehicles sold in the United States for frontal and side crash protection, and 92 percent for rollover resistance. A number of model year 2014 vehicles had carry-over designs from the previous model year or have already been tested, and these ratings are already available on www.SaferCar.gov. NHTSA will test 48 vehicles for the 2014 model year, including 22 passenger cars, 18 sport utility vehicles, 5 pickups, and 3 vans.

As the vehicles are tested, consumers can access ratings at www.SaferCar.gov and through NHTSA’s SaferCar app – available for iPhone and iPod Touch devices. The agency plans to release a version of the app that is compatible with Android devices in early 2014.

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17 Comments on "Op-Ed: NHTSA Takes Aim at Tesla With Updated Guidelines; Tesla Model S Remains Safest Vehicle Ever Tested"

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Mikey

“The Model is still the safest vehicle ever tested by the NHTSA, it’s just that the NHTSA doesn’t Tesla to mention that.”

“The Model is still the safest vehicle ever tested by the NHTSA, it’s just that the NHTSA doesn’t (WANT?) Tesla to mention that.”

Eric Loveday

want? Yep…that’s what was missing. Added in now.

io

Actually, even though it very well may be is, claiming that the Model S is “the safest vehicle” is unsubstantiated.
Whether this assertion has any merit will start to be visible in statistics in several years, but the data available today doesn’t allows this yet.

Claiming that the Model S scored the highest on NHTSA tests would be accurate — except that the NHTSA understands that its testing is necessarily limited in scope and accuracy, and therefore (wisely IMHO) doesn’t allow manufacturers to coerce its numbers into meaning things they were not meant to.

What can be stated as factual is that the Model S did earn the top NHTSA crash rating.

Josh Bryant

Pissing off the NHTSA, just before they conduct an investigation might not have been the best idea. Hopefully they get an unbiased investigation.

If Tesla wants to keep pushing the envelope with NHTSA (after the investigation), they could request that NHTSA raise the crash test standards significantly, making the Model S the only vehicle that would reach 5 stars.

Jeff D

Typical government agency taking issue with something that isn’t an issue and not paying enough attention to more important issues. How much of our tax dollars are being wasted by these useless announcements that could be better used elsewhere.

PJS

When the NHTSA develops the “road debris striking the undercarriage of the car” test, Tesla is doomed.

kdawg

If that becomes a reality, a lot of car companies will have to re-evaluate their designs.

HVACman

In the NHSTA’s defense, please note that apparently past other vehicles in the past have scored higher than 5 stars in the VSS, but no other manufacturer has ever used that fact to toot their horn as the “safest car ever tested”, citing the VSS score. Nor have any manufacturers who scored “4 stars” on a model that actually scored a 4.9 on the VSS, advertised “almost 5 star safety”. I don’t know if this was just a “gentleman’s agreement”, or that there have always been some written guidelines.

I guess if the NHSTA wanted to allow use the full VSS scores, they could have, but historically, it’s either been 3, 4, or 5. If I were the NHSTA, GM, Ford, Toyota, or any other of the long-time game players, I’d be PO’ed at this upstart playing fast and loose too.

At school, an 89 is still a B and a 90 is still an A. And boastful kids eventually get their come-up-ance.

kdawg

Maybe the NHTSA needs bigger scale than a score from 0 to 5. Then they would’t have to bother with rounding. Of course that may be information overload for Joe 6-pack.

Eric Loveday

Yes and one of the linked article show that the next highest ever VSS score is still below 5.4…this link: http://insideevs.com/which-vehicle-is-closest-to-tesla-model-s-in-overall-safety/

The VSS info is available on all vehicles…though it’s not accessible to the general public and is incredibly difficult to decipher and access. I can assure you however that no vehicle has ever done better than then 5.4 of the Model S

io

And it’s irrelevant. We don’t know what this number means. For example, is a VSS of 4.73 better than 4.71, or is it just an artifact of the way tests scores are weighted?
Would we want manufacturers to start claiming they “0.1 better” than another, with some fancy wording that “not really 0.1 star, but 0.1 VSS, which is kind of the same thing, but you can’t check”?

I have to agree with HVACman and the NHTSA here. Just like for the EPA fuel efficiency ratings, manufacturers who decide to advertise those numbers have to do it following strict guidelines, so they remain comparable between manufacturers (some got in trouble for “forgetting” to specify “highway” after some bold MPG numbers, for example).

The NHTSA wants everyone to play by the same rules — and as a consumer looking for somewhat-reliable data in the sea of too-often-stretched advertising claims from every manufacturer, so do I.

saabluster

Who is the NHSTA? Never heard of them.

saabluster

“With today’s announcement, we are continuing to provide consumers with valuable information through our world-renowned 5-star rating program so they can make more-informed car buying decisions. NHTSA’s 5-Star Safety Ratings Program allows consumers to search crash test ratings and make informed purchasing decisions.”

They say they want me to be “more-informed” but are at the very same moment trying to hide the information from me. Sounds disingenuous to me.

qwerty

saabluster….

you beat me to it!
+1

Bill Howland

Per Dr. Kerry Johnson, the Chevrolet Volt is the safest car ever made (and the farmer’s insurance adjuster who looked at the car his daughter Caroline was driving. The adjuster said he had never seen such a mangled car without a fatality and the Doctor was so impressed he wants his story used as defacto advertising for the Volt.

The story has the ring of truth, as accurately reported here on INsideevs.

Bill Howland

The Mexican accident of the Tesla really scares me. There are minor explosions in the short video, but then there is one really huge BRILLIANT flash and ear shattering BANG that I wonder if anyone in the passenger compartment (should they not have been able to escape for whatever reason) would have survived. Until this is fully investigated, THE WORLD’S SAFEST CAR moniker is premature to say the least.

sven

“Oh the joys of being an investigative journalist.” Are you being sarcastic or are you serious? 😉

NHTSA doesn’t have an “axe to grind” with Tesla Motors. An investigation into the safety of Tesla’s battery pack will eliminate the uncertainty that exists in consumers minds as to the safety of Tesla’s Model S battery pack. NHTSA will either confirm that battery pack is safe, or it will determine that it isn’t safe in it’s present implementation and order a recall to fix the problem.