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October 11, 2018

After Tesla’s ‘best car’ boasts, the NHTSA stresses its scale only goes to five

by John_A

In a verbose blog post, Tesla bragged about building the best car the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has ever tested. It proudly paraded the Model 3‘s five-star crash test rating and hailed the electric sedan as the car with the lowest probability of injury, a claim backed up by data. The statements initially went unchecked — Tesla published the post over the weekend — but it didn’t take long for the agency to issue a response.

It turns out that the Model 3 is indeed safe, as the crash test data shows, but the NHTSA stressed that its rating system doesn’t go above five stars.

“A five-star rating is the highest safety rating a vehicle can achieve. NHTSA does not distinguish safety performance beyond that rating, thus there is no ‘safest’ vehicle among those vehicles achieving five-star ratings,” the agency wrote on its official website. It didn’t specifically mention Tesla, but the timing of the announcement — and the nature of Tesla’s claims — leave little doubt that the statement is a response to the California-based firm.

Earning a five-star safety rating is an impressive achievement, and it’s easier said than done. It makes the Model 3 one of the safest new cars sold in America. Data gathered by the NHTSA (and analyzed by Jalopnik) does show the Model 3 has a lower probability of injury than any car tested since 2011. However, the relatively long list of new and late-model cars with a five-star safety rating from the NHTSA also includes the 2013 Subaru Legacy, the 2015 Audi A4, the 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class, the 2018 Subaru Impreza, the 2018 Volvo S60, and the 2019 Buick LaCrosse.

This isn’t the first time Tesla has raised eyebrows at the NHTSA. In 2013, it trumpeted the record-breaking 5.4-star safety rating earned by the Model S. This achievement made the S the safest new car in America, the company claimed. The NHTSA quickly stepped in to remind Tesla officials there is no such thing as a 5.4-star safety rating. It also established new guidelines that forbid automakers from advertising a score higher than five stars.

Bloomberg points out companies who make extravagant claims about crash test ratings can get in trouble with other agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission. That’s the last thing Tesla needs right now, it already landed on the wrong side of the Securities and Exchange Commission, but there’s no indication the FTC will take action against the company.

Updated 10-10-2018: Corrected the story to reflect that Tesla called the Model 3 the NHTSA’s best car, not its safest car, and added information about crash test data.

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