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A Big Week for Elon Musk's Bold Tesla Safety Claims

After a stream of negative mainstream media coverage and a cease-and-desist letter from the NHTSA, Tesla safety claims will be put to perhaps their most important test this week.


If you'll pardon the pun, is Tesla safety all it's cracked up to be?

A recurring theme of praise for Tesla vehicles throughout our Torque News comments section lauds the company's standards as the highest in the industry. It's not surprising, given that Elon Musk himself leads the charge with regular tweets about his company's superior technology and commitment to safety.

This site has already covered why the Tesla Model 3 still has plenty to prove on the safety side, not least by standing up to the more rigorous testing standards of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Well, those long-awaited tests begin this week, with results that could either vindicate the bold claims of Elon Musk or stall sales of the Model 3 for potential buyers who are less EV-obsessed.

How Safe is the Tesla Model 3?

According to tests by another prominent U.S. testing agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Tesla Model 3 is a five-star safety pick. By NHTSA standards, the car stands up very well alongside similar premium performance sedans like the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4.

While all three vehicles achieve five-star ratings, the Audi and BMW models lose a star for frontal collision testing. The Model 3 achieves top marks for frontal, side, and rollover crash ratings, as well as delivering more driver-assist functions like forward-collision warnings and imminent crash braking as standard features.

Tesla Model 3 NHTSA ratingsOn the subject of the car's competitors, here are a few ways the Tesla Model 3 competes in the luxury segment.

It's these small distinctions, alongside the promise of his company's self-driving technology, that compels Elon Musk to proclaim Tesla safety as the leader in the automotive industry.

Unfortunately, the NHTSA seems to disagree.

Last week, it was reported that the organization sent a cease-and-desist letter to Tesla, pointing to Musk's claim that his cars provided “the lowest probability” of injury compared to any other vehicle ever tested by the NHTSA. A bold claim, as usual, but not one that the testing organization is willing to underwrite, given their tests aren't sufficient to assess that safety aspect in comparison to all other vehicles.

Although this doesn't take away the five stars received by the Tesla Model 3, both by NHTSA testing and the European New Car Assessment Program, it does detract from Musk's central theme that his company makes the safest vehicles on the road.

Throw in the 64 complaints listed against the Tesla Model 3 on the NHTSA site, where competing models report only single digits, and it raises more questions than answers about Tesla safety.

A Big Week for Tesla Safety

If Tesla is able to earn the vaunted IIHS Top Safety Pick + award, Elon Musk will have a "told you so" moment on his hands. Tesla Model 3 safety will be rubber-stamped for the foreseeable future and the benefits should quickly extend to the wider perception of brand safety.

Should the Model 3 fail to perform well, it will only serve to reinforce critics who claim that Tesla's quality is subpar and the brand is not to be trusted.

With the obsessive focus of the mainstream media on electric vehicle accidents, recalls and fires, despite the fact that EVs make up barely 2% of the US auto market, the anti-Tesla drumbeat will only increase.

All eyes on the IIHS, then, as the stakes continue to rise for America's most polarizing automaker. Do you think they'll pass with flying colors?

Let us know in the comments and, as always, stay tuned to Torque News for the results and analysis.

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Steve Birkett is an electric vehicle advocate at Plug & Play EV. You can follow him on Twitter at @Plugandplayev, Instagram and Youtube at Plug & Play EV channel.