Posting 5-star scores across the board in safety testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the 2013 Tesla Model S has achieved a new industry benchmark. Per the automaker: “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.”
(Emphasis in the original.)
To be clear, that’s not just a better mark than any car in the industry, it’s also a better mark than any vehicle of any kind, including SUVs and minivans—and Volvos. In the “side-pole intrusion” test, for example, Tesla bragged that the Model S “preserved 63.5 percent of driver residual space vs. 7.8 percent for the Volvo [S60],” which is another of just a handful of vehicles to earn a 5-star rating in each facet of NHTSA testing.
Uncoincidentally, a key factor in the safety ratings of the 2013 Tesla Model S is the same feature that enables its stellar efficiency ratings: an advanced electric propulsion system. Not only does it provide hundreds of miles of all-electric driving range on a single charge and true sports-car-like performance, but it also enables room for a much larger crumple zone up front than in a traditional gas-engined or hybrid vehicle. Of course, that’s because there is no traditional gas engine at all in the 2013 Model Tesla S, just a sophisticated battery pack and a powerful but compact electric motor, and the latter is mounted back near the rear axle.
And no, the lithium-ion batteries in the 2013 Tesla Model S didn’t catch fire at any point during the testing, although the brand did heat things up for other top safety performers by noting that: “The above results do not tell the full story. It is possible to game the regulatory testing score to some degree by strengthening a car at the exact locations used by the regulatory testing machines. 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.”