Tesla Model S: Safest Car Ever

The Tesla Motors' (NASDAQ: TSLA  ) Model S party never ends. The electric vehicle received unanimous votes to be named Motor Trend's "2013 Car of the Year". Consumer Reports referred to the premium sedan's performance as "off the charts", giving the car 99 out of a possible 100 points in the magazine's tests. Now, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, has awarded Tesla's Model S the highest overall vehicle safety score ever, earning a new combined record of 5.4 stars.

Both the test results and a few snippets from Tesla's press release recounting the achievement highlight a few meaningful nuggets for investors.

First, the test results...


Source: Tesla Motors.

Shattering records
Of every major make and model approved for sale in the U.S., the Model S "set a new record for the lowest likelihood of injury to occupants", explains Tesla's press release. The car's performance outshined more than just sedans though -- it outperformed all SUVs and minivans, too.

Not only did it achieve a five-star rating overall, but it did so in every subcategory, too. Here are a few highlights:

  • From the front, the advantage of the much longer crumple zone due to a large trunk in place of an engine worked in its favor.
  • The rear testing was particularly important given the optional third-row child's seat in which faces the rear. When Model S owners order this feature, the car is delivered with a double bumper in order to help protect against impact at highway speeds. As it turns out, the third row is "the safest location in the car for frontal or side injuries", according to the release.
  • When it comes to rollovers, no other vehicle comes close. At the testing facility, the Model S wouldn't roll. So the facility had to introduce special methods in order to get the car to roll. The low center of gravity thanks to the battery pack mounted below the floor pan makes rollovers very difficult.
  • The testing machine built to make the roof cave failed at just above four gs. The release shares some perspective: "[At] least four additional fully loaded Model S vehicles could be placed on top of an owner's car without the roof caving in."
  • Worried about a battery exploding or catching fire? It didn't happen during or after the NHTSA testing and it hasn't happened ever, period.

Going above and beyond
Though the results are certainly impressive, it's the glimpse into Tesla's efforts to achieve this safety that really stands out. One paragraph in Tesla's press release gave investors a glimpse into the company's culture:

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.

Are electric cars simply better?
This question might make gas-guzzler fans a bit uncomfortable, but it's worth contemplating. Even if "green" wasn't a factor, maybe cars will never realize their full potential with large gasoline engine blocks embedded in the front of the vehicle versus the one-foot in diameter motor mounted close to the rear axle in the Model S.

Maybe electric cars are better.

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Read/Post Comments (8) | Recommend This Article (5)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On August 20, 2013, at 1:53 PM, AlaaSadek wrote:

    I think that all new cars should be at least as safe as the Tesla Model S.

  • Report this Comment On August 20, 2013, at 2:37 PM, StanO6 wrote:

    "Maybe electric cars are better."

    Yep!

    In the not so distant future, oil burning cars (ICE) will be looked at in disgust.

  • Report this Comment On August 20, 2013, at 2:46 PM, chinesebuffett wrote:

    I question if this isn't a phenomenon and natural characteristic of EVs as a whole. Lack of engine - more crumple, low battery pack - low probability of roll over, heavy - better for every type of crash. I don't doubt that Tesla is made well, but I wonder how much of that safety is attributable to Tesla and how much it is attributable to the nature of EV design as a whole.

  • Report this Comment On August 20, 2013, at 3:10 PM, AdamSssss wrote:

    And the hits just keep on coming. This comes as no surprise for people who have driven a Model S. It's yet more proof that this IS the best car ever made.

  • Report this Comment On August 20, 2013, at 3:44 PM, mottledtool wrote:

    The thing to keep in mind when reading all of the reports of how amazing electrics cars are is that the batteries currently in use are still fairly primitive. Once the EV segment is large enough to attract some serious development capital for better batteries (or ultra-capacitors or something not even thought of yet), infernal combustion will look more and more like bad technology from the last century.

  • Report this Comment On August 20, 2013, at 4:46 PM, RussellL wrote:

    "...how much of that safety is attributable to Tesla and how much it is attributable to the nature of EV design as a whole."

    Ask yourself why does the Nissan Leaf get 4 stars and the Volvo V60 get 5?

    It matters who designs it.

  • Report this Comment On August 20, 2013, at 7:21 PM, TMFDanielSparks wrote:

    I'd say that the majority of it has to do with Tesla, but at the same time Tesla is pioneering fully electric cars, and a few of the items tested were possible because the car was electric, e.g. the crumple zone in the front and the low center of gravity in the rollover test. This combined with The Model S' numerous awards is certainly evidence that there may be more potential in electric cars than gas guzzlers.

  • Report this Comment On August 21, 2013, at 8:20 AM, drax7 wrote:

    Ev is the future. Tesla has a strong lead with best rated car ever and safest car ever and longest ev range. The mkt potential is enormous. Tesla execution has been great, it has potential to reach mega cap value.

    Investment thesis should be Simple enough for a child to describe with crayons in a minute, said Peter lynch .

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