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5-Star NHTSA Safety Rating & Controversy for Tesla Model S

Tesla Model SNHTSA Top Safety Pick Tesla Model S

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awarded a 5 Star Safety Rating to Tesla's Model S, adding to the impressive awards already earned by the vehicle. And while achieving top marks for safety is an impressive feat, the news hasn’t been without controversy.

In press releases touting the NHTSA findings Tesla stated that the Model S achieved a combined record of 5.4 stars in overall Vehicle Safety. Tesla also claims this score takes into account the probability of injury from front, side, rear and rollover accidents.  The NHTSA almost immediately rebuked the automaker releasing a statement clarifying that, “NHTSA does not rate vehicles beyond 5 stars and does not rank or order vehicles within the stay rating categories.” While not specifically calling out Tesla by name the statement was certainly aimed at them.

The 5 star safety rating is impressive even without Tesla’s claims of being the “highest rated vehicle of all time”, especially considering the Consumer Reports review in May, which name the model their top scoring car.  Both Motor Trend and Automobile Magazine also named the Model S “Car of the Year”.

The company’s dubious release stated, "After verifying through internal testing that the Model S would achieve a NHTSA 5-star rating, Tesla then analyzed the Model S to determine the weakest points in the car and retested at those locations until the car achieved 5 stars no matter how the test equipment was configured." They also claimed that the machine conducting the roof-crush test broke when it was unable to crush the roof of the car but failed to identify where the test was conducted or answer any questions about either the machine or the test.

Notwithstanding the controversy about the press release and some of the claims by co-founder Elon Musk, clearly the car is a very safe choice. Key safety features of the Model S include a longer "crumple zone" in the front created by the absence of a large engine block under the hood, multiple aluminum extrusions in the side rail of the car that help absorb crash impact, and a double rear bumper if a third row children's seat is ordered.  The Tesla Model S has three battery options that offer a range between 208 miles and 265 miles with combined mpge of 89. As Tesla prepares to deliver the Model X in 2014 they are certain to continue to make headlines.