By on August 8, 2019

Tesla Model 3, Image: Tesla

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration took exception to Tesla’s suggestion that a person is less likely to suffer injury in its vehicles than those built any other manufacturer, documents reveal. Advocacy group PlainSite obtained the docs via a FOI request, shedding light on both the NHTSA’s concern re: Tesla’s safety claims, as well as subpoenas issued in the pursuit of information following several Tesla crashes.

Last October, the NHTSA fired off a crease and desist letter to Tesla after the automaker claimed the agency’s crash data showed its Model 3 surpassed the five-star ranking issued for the model. This was a misleading statement and improper use of data, the NHTSA said. Since that time, crashes involving Tesla vehicles have earned the company additional scrutiny from the road safety regulator.

Following the initial dustup, the NHTSA tipped off the Federal Trade Commission to see if Tesla truly misled potential buyers with its boast, thus breaking the law.

The safety agency also sought information pertaining to crashes on at least five occasions, including after a fatal March collision in Florida. In a statement to Bloomberg following the document dump, the NHTSA said it “is committed to rigorous and appropriate safety oversight of the industry and encourages any potential safety issue be reported to NHTSA.”

The agency doesn’t normally use subpoenas to retrieve information following crashes. A former NHTSA official told the publication the subpoenas could indicate a formal investigation is in the works, as the documents show the agency honing in on a certain component of the automaker’s Autopilot driver-assist system.

“I think what this shows is that NHTSA has concerns about Autopilot performance,” said Frank Borris, former director of the NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation.

Unswayed by the document reveal and ongoing federal attention, a Tesla spokesperson told Reuters Wednesday that the company stands by its earlier claims. The boasts were not that the Model 3 is the safest car, Tesla says; rather, the model was engineered to be the safest car ever built. The company claims the NHTSA crash data remains valid.

[Image: Tesla]

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21 Comments on “Safety Boast Sparked Back-and-forth With Feds, Subpoenas, Docs Reveal...”


  • avatar
    jkross22

    Who else at Tesla is rolling blunts? This is another unforced error by a company that’s better at unforced errors than they are at building cars.

    It won’t be competition that checkmates Tesla. It’ll be a deadly combination of tweets and hubris.

    • 0 avatar
      R Henry

      Companies often develop “personalities” that reflect traits of their founder/CEO. As for who is rolling blunts, we already know, definitively, that Musk does…

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    I recently drove across the country in a vehicle with adaptive cruise control. Very nice feature, and that’s where I draw the line on “self driving.” I don’t want a vehicle to take control of the steering wheel, period.

  • avatar
    tylanner

    They really should explain the data behind this graph…

    https://www.tesla.com/sites/default/files/blog/m3-nhtsa-blog-09272018.jpg

    I hope it involves concrete reductions in forces and/or probabilities….

  • avatar
    sirwired

    “The boasts were not that the Model 3 is the safest car, Tesla says; rather, the model was engineered to be the safest car ever built.”

    What does that even mean? That Tesla *intended* to make the safest car ever, but they failed at it? That’d make for some compelling ad copy!

  • avatar
    JoeBrick

    “Last October, the NHTSA fired off a crease and desist letter to Tesla”
    I hope that “crease and desist” letter was strongly worded and told Tesla where SPECIFICALLY to put the creases.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    It’s good to have that crash surviveability when the aluminum suspension parts break and you go into an uncontrollable trajectory.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    I expect Tesla’s claim to being the safest car in a crash ranks right up there with their claim that their production methods are superior to anyone else’s. Pure and utter nonsense from beginning to end based on a complete lack of Musk’s experience in the industry. Egghead hubris.

  • avatar
    cprescott

    Based on what I’ve seen and read, Tesla owners need the car to drive itself because they aren’t smart enough to actually drive a car. I can’t believe these fools who think they are driving something and saving money when they never factor in the increased insurance rates and repair costs over ICE products nor do they even factor in maintenance on their car which has problems that aren’t even in ICE cars. But then again, logic and Tesla never go together.

    I get it – you want to feel superior, Tesla owners. And I am glad you are paying through the nose for this. And now you all will bear the entire burden of your choice because your tax credits from the Feds is running out and you aren’t shifting your costs onto your neighbors!

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      I saw a Third Gen Camaro with a not over the top LS swap roast a Tesla at the strip because the dude, even with all of the nannies couldn’t launch the Tesla and/or drive it A to B.

      With my Fiesta I have found my biggest performance gains came via spending money on track time and tightening up the loose but behind the wheel.

      Horsepower wins brags, torque wins drags, but no matter how much of either you have you aren’t winning jack if you can’t peddle it out of the hole and you end up looking at the taillights of a brown 80s Camaro with a red fender through your six figure windshield. Seen it happen to exotics too and a Hellcat…not just Tesla’s.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        Yea, I beat a lot of cars with my Charger and Grand Prix that I no business beating and I lost to a lot of cars in my Firebird that I had no business losing to.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        “I have found my biggest performance gains came via spending money on track time and tightening up the loose but behind the wheel.”

        Freudian typo?

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      @cprsott: “Based on what I’ve seen and read, Tesla owners need the car to drive itself because they aren’t smart enough to actually drive a car.”

      First of all, people buy the cars because they like them. Not everyone buys one to save money. Almost every review says that they’re great cars. Alex Roy just bought one and he seems to know how to drive. Jay Leno has one. Henry Payne of the Detroit News bought one too.

      Again, it’s nothing about feeling superior over others for most drivers. In fact, name any genre of car or brand and there’s probably a segment of owners that feel superior to others. With EVs, most people like the smoothness and the torque and they aren’t deliberately buying them to make you feel inferior. That’s all in your own mind.

      As far as the tax incentives go, it’s not a problem for me. As a small Permian Basin energy producer, I can still use my oil subsidies to buy my next car.

      https://www.thedrive.com/opinion/27490/how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-buy-a-tesla

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    This article conflate crash safety claims, actual crash safety, and Autopilot. I don’t know what is really being said.

    Crash test data does show that Teslas are exceptionally safe if you have an accident. Autopilot is an entirely different story. I’d want no parts of it.


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