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Tesla Model S: Safest Car Ever

By Daniel Sparks - Aug 20, 2013 at 12:59PM

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Consumer Reports' best car ever just became the safest car, too.

The Tesla Motors' (TSLA -2.44%) 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.

Fool contributor Daniel Sparks owns shares of Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool recommends Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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