When you’re the owner of a small, rickety sedan, few things are more terrifying than the moment when you’re sitting at a red light and you see an SUV driving up hard and fast behind you. Will it stop in time? Or will it plow through your car and scatter it like an Erector Set?
Not many cars have earned five stars across the board when evaluated for safety by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). But one has emerged as a new record-setter: Tesla's Model S. Tesla announced late Monday that the Model S has achieved the highest safety rating of any car in history. You know. NBD.
The Model S earned an Overall Vehicle Safety Score of 5.4 stars, setting a record for lowest likelihood of injury to occupants compared to every other vehicle tested, including every major make and model approved for sale in the US. Despite being a sedan, it even proved to be safer than any SUV or Minivan. Fewer than 1% of vehicles earn five stars across the board in safety tests.
At one point, the Model S actually broke the testing machine. At an independent commercial facility, the machine used to test the car’s roof crush protection actually failed above 4 Gs, which means no one knows for sure exactly how much pressure the Model S roof can withstand, but 4 Gs is the equivalent of stacking four fully loaded Model S vehicles on top of a single Tesla S.
In the rollover test, the Model S performed 50% better than all other top safety vehicles. The testing facility couldn’t induce the car to flip over using normal means and actually had to use special methods to flip the car due to the fact that the battery pack, which is mounted below the floor pan, gives the car a low center of gravity.
Additionally, on the pole intrusion test—which is considered the hardest to pass—the Model S was the only to make it into the “good” category among all the other safest 1% of vehicles. Utilizing Apollo Lunar Lander technology, Tesla nests several deep aluminum extrusions in the side rail of the car so that it absorbs the impact energy and either stops the car before the pole hits an occupant or breaks the pole.
And because the model S doesn’t have a large gasoline engine block, it has a much deeper crumple zone to absorb high-speed impact in the case of a head-on collision. Tesla describes it as being akin to jumping into a shallow pool of water: it’s better if there are no large rocks on the bottom.
The company took it a step further, however, by admitting that it’s possible to game the system by simply reinforcing the spots that the testing machines target. So Tesla says it tested the Model S to identify its weakest spots and then retested at those spots until the car achieved a five star rating no matter how the testing equipment was configured.
Too bad you can’t afford the Model S. The car starts at $70,000, while the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf start at $35,000 and $29,000 respectively. The Model S was positioned from the start to compete with other pricey luxury sedans, so more than three-quarters of Model S buyers earn more than $100,000 a year.
Nevertheless, the company saw record U.S. sales of the Model S, selling 5,150 vehicles in the June quarter.
Image source: mediamatters.org