Op-Ed: NHTSA Takes Aim at Tesla With Updated Guidelines; Tesla Model S Remains Safest Vehicle Ever Tested
Oh the joys of being an investigative journalist.
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):
- Clearing Up the Confusion: Tesla Model S Crash Test Safety Score Versus the NHTSA’s Slap-on-the-Wrist Response
- Official: Tesla Model S Becomes World’s Safest Vehicle According to NHTSA Test Results (w/videos)
- Which Vehicle is Closest to Tesla Model S in Overall Safety?
- Tesla Model S Gets 5-Star Safety Rating From NHTSA (w/videos)
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:
“…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:
“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.