Safety Boast Sparked Back-and-forth With Feds, Subpoenas, Docs Reveal

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
safety boast sparked back and forth with feds subpoenas docs reveal

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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  • Cprescott Cprescott on Aug 08, 2019

    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!

    • See 3 previous
    • Mcs Mcs on Aug 08, 2019

      @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.

  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Aug 09, 2019

    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.

  • Inside Looking Out In June 1973, Leonid Brezhnev arrived in Washington for his second summit meeting with President Richard Nixon. Knowing of the Soviet leader’s fondness for luxury automobiles, Nixon gave him a shiny Lincoln Continental. Brezhnev was delighted with the present and insisted on taking a spin around Camp David, speeding through turns while the president nervously asked him to slow down.
  • Bobby D'Oppo Great sound and smooth power delivery in a heavier RWD or AWD vehicle is a nice blend, but current V8 pickup trucks deliver an unsophisticated driving experience. I think a modern full-size pickup could be very well suited to a manual transmission.In reality, old school, revvy atmo engines pair best with manual transmissions because it's so rewarding to keep them in the power band on a winding road. Modern turbo engines have flattened the torque curve and often make changing gears feel more like a chore.
  • Chuck Norton For those worried about a complex power train-What vehicle doesn't have one? I drive a twin turbo F-150 (3.5) Talk about complexity.. It seems reliability based on the number of F-150s sold is a non-issue. As with many other makes/models. I mean how many operations are handle by micro today's vehicles?
  • Ravenuer The Long Island Expressway.
  • Kwik_Shift A nice stretch of fairly remote road that would be great for test driving a car's potential, rally style, is Flinton Road off of Highway 41 in Ontario. Twists/turns/dips/rises. Just hope a deer doesn't jump out at you. Also Highway 60 through Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario. Great scenery with lots of hills.