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Tesla Model S is North America’s safest vehicle with 5-star NHTSA rating

Electric vehicle sweeps all safety subcategories and registers top marks overall.


Tesla’s ultra-safe Model S sedan. Photo: Crixxor

PALO ALTO, Calif. — The Tesla Model S sedan may be one of the priciest electric vehicles (EV) starting at just under $72,000, but it is surely one of the safest with a just-awarded National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) five-star safety rating.

The Pal Alto, Calif. designer and assembler of the vehicle is crowing about the overall rating, and the sweep of all the sub-categories putting the vehicle ahead of all SUVs and minivans and among the 1% of all cars tested by the US federal government to achieve the across the board rating,

Noting the NHTSA does not publish a star rating above 5, Tesla brags the overall Vehicle Safety Score (VSS) provided to manufacturers gives the Model S a new combined record of 5.4 stars.

This score gauges the probability of injury from front, side, rear and rollover accidents.

Tesla provides a blow-by-blow of the test results, noting the absence of a large gasoline engine block creates a much longer crumple zone to absorb a high-speed impact. The motor is only about a foot in diameter and is mounted close to the rear axle. The front section that would normally contain a gasoline engine is used as a second trunk.

In the side pole intrusion test, Tesla said the Model S was the only car in the “good” category among the other top 1% of vehicles tested. Compared to the Volvo S60, which is also 5-star rated in all categories, the Model S preserved 63.5% of driver residual space vs. 7.8% for the Volvo.

Tesla said it achieved this outcome by nesting multiple deep aluminum extrusions in the side rail of the car that absorb the impact energy and transfer load to the rest of the vehicle. This causes the pole to be either sheared off or to stop the car before the pole hits an occupant.

If an optional third row children’s seat is ordered, the Tesla factory installs a double bumper to protect against a highway speed impact in the rear with no permanently disabling injuries to the occupants.

The Model S also outperformed rivals in rollover risk, with the other top vehicles being approximately 50% worse. During testing at an independent facility, Tesla said special means were needed to induce the car to roll. Tesla attributes the location of the battery pack below the floor pan for a low centre of gravity.

The roof crush test broke the testing machine, but it demonstrated four Model S vehicles could be piled on the roof on one without caving in. This is achieved primarily through a centre pillar reinforcement attached via aerospace grade bolts.

And good news about the lithium-ion battery. It didn’t catch fire at any time before, during or after the NHTSA testing.

For those interested in fuel economy, since it doesn’t use gasoline, Tesla said owners will save about $8,000 over five years compared to a vehicle like the BMW 535i.

Tesla will be producing 20,000 Model S sedans this year, and Canadian buyers can check one out at the company’s Toronto dealership.