Published: Fri, August 09, 2019
Markets | By Otis Pena

US told Tesla it can't call Model 3 safest car ever tested

US told Tesla it can't call Model 3 safest car ever tested

Now, in an odd turn of events that will perhaps not surprise longtime Tesla detractors, PlainSite recently discovered that the NHTSA a year ago hit Tesla with a cease-and-desist letter claiming that the company's safety claims regarding the Model 3 are misleading.

It also says Tesla cars "have achieved the lowest probability of injury of any vehicle ever tested by the USA government's New Car Assessment Program".

Tesla says Model 3 occupants have "the lowest probability of injury of all cars the safety agency has ever tested".

"The guidelines warn against comparison statements like these because such statements mislead consumers about the relative safety of different vehicle models", wrote the NHTSA General Counsel Jonathan Morrison.

The safety board removed Tesla from its regular participation in its probe of the Model X crash in March 2018, saying the company disclosed information about the case in spite of an agreement not to do so while the probe was underway. The regulator said that the claims were inconsistent with its advertising guidelines regarding crash ratings and that it would ask the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether the statements were unfair or deceptive acts. The NHTSA didn't directly respond to Tesla's comments at that time, but the agency did say that it "does not distinguish safety performance beyond (a five-star) rating, thus there is no "safest" vehicle among those vehicles achieving five-star ratings".

The NHTSA, which gave the Model 3 the top rating on the agency's 5-Star Safety Ratings Program, called Tesla's claims "inaccurate", explaining in its letter that the nature of its crash tests makes it "impossible" to compare the results of vehicles that vary in weight by more than 250 pounds.

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However, Bloomberg stated that not everyone is so completely convinced that there a subpoena is "business as usual" for the NHTSA "The fact that they've had to issue subpoenas about it indicates that NHTSA hasn't been satisfied by Tesla's responses, because that's just not normal", said Borris, who's now an auto-safety consultant.

The documents, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, show that the NHTSA took exception to a blog post Telsa published on October 7th, 2018. The agency said that its crash tests combine into an overall safety rating and that it doesn't rank vehicles that score the same ratings.

Data on driver engagement that is included in Tesla's communications with NHTSA point to a similar issue, said David Friedman, a former deputy administrator at NHTSA during the Obama administration, who's now vice president of advocacy at Consumer Reports.

In that letter, the company argued that its statement was "neither untrue nor misleading". (The family of this driver sued Tesla last week.) The agency subpoenaed Tesla for things like the vehicle data logs from the cars in these crashes, and the automaker complied with the subpoenas (though with a few redaction requests).

Contacted by email, a Tesla spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter further, saying the company stood by the statements it made last October.

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