Tesla says changes currently on the production line will earn the Model S a top rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety after falling short of that designation following crash tests.
The ratings for the Model S apply to 2016 and 2017 cars built after October 2016. Tesla says it made a production change on Jan. 23 to address a head-contact problem found in the evaluation, and IIHS will test the updated vehicle for small overlap protection as soon as it can be delivered.
To qualify for Top Safety Pick, a vehicle must earn good ratings in all five crashworthiness evaluations – small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraints – and have an available front crash prevention system that earns an advanced or superior rating. The “plus” is awarded to vehicles that meet all those criteria and also come with good or acceptable headlights.
The IIHS evaluation of the Model S included the following observations:
- The Model S, a large luxury sedan, earns good ratings in all IIHS crashworthiness evaluations except the challenging small overlap front crash test, in which it earns an acceptable rating. Despite lengthening the side curtain airbags to improve small overlap protection in the Model S, Tesla ran into problems in the test when the safety belt allowed the dummy’s torso to move too far forward. That allowed the dummy’s head to hit the steering wheel hard through the airbag. Measurements from the dummy indicated that injuries to the head, along with the lower right leg, would be possible in a real-world crash of the same severity.
- Although the i3, the Volt and the Prius all did better in the small overlap evaluation than the Model S, the results can’t be compared because the Model S is larger than the others. Since the kinetic energy involved in a front crash depends on the speed and weight of the vehicle, the Tesla’s acceptable rating is based on a more severe crash than the good ratings of the lighter cars.
- One version of the Model S, the P100D, also falls short on roof strength, which is important for protecting people in a rollover crash. The rating is based on a strength-to-weight ratio. The P100D has the same roof structure as other Model S versions but is heavier, due to a larger battery, so it earns an acceptable rating.
- The current version of the Model S hasn’t yet been rated for front crash prevention. While automatic braking equipment comes standard, Tesla hasn’t yet activated the software for all vehicles.
- The 2017 Model S isn’t available with anything other than poor-rated headlights. Tesla says it is working with its supplier to improve the headlights, and IIHS will evaluate the new ones when they are available.
Tesla quickly issued a statement on the rating:
“We are committed to making the world’s safest cars, and Model S has previously received a 5-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a 5-star rating from Euro NCAP. Model S still has the lowest ever probability of injury of any car ever tested by NHTSA.
We proactively develop updates and aggressively implement changes onto the production line in record time any time there is a substantial benefit to customer safety. One of the improvements recently introduced in January 2017 specifically addresses the “Acceptable” (or second highest) rating that the Model S achieved in the small overlap frontal crash test, and we expect new tests to yield the highest possible rating (“Good” rating) in the crashworthiness category.
Additionally, IIHS tested a vehicle that was in transition with new Autopilot hardware, but without the new software that enables Automatic Emergency Braking. In the coming weeks, Automatic Emergency Braking will be deployed via a free over-the-air software update, and IIHS will be testing a new vehicle. We expect to receive the highest possible rating in every category, making Model S eligible for the IIHS Top Safety Pick award.”
A video of the Tesla’s moderate overlap crash test is below.