Tesla Motors is on a roll. Just months after paying off its Department of Energy loan nine years ahead of schedule, the California electric carmaker has received a 5-star safety rating in every subcategory from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), making it part of the one percent of all vehicles tested by the federal government to achieve a perfect score.
Tesla’s Tony Stark-esque CEO, Elon Musk, has been quick to point out that although NHTSA does not publish a star rating above 5, safety levels better than five stars are captured in the overall Vehicle Safety Score (VSS) provided to manufacturers, where the Model S achieved a new combined record of 5.4 stars.
The Model S also set a new record for the lowest likelihood of injury to occupants, Musk says. Though the Model S is a sedan, it exceeded the safety score of all SUVs and minivans, which takes into account the probability of injury from front, side, rear and rollover accidents.
Musk claims the Model S is capable of absorbing high-speed impacts due to the absence of a large gasoline engine block in the front, which creates a longer crumple zone that allows more time to slow down occupants at g loads that do not cause injuries. This is possible due to the fact that the motor is only about a foot in diameter and mounted close to the rear axle, and the front section that would normally contain a gasoline engine is used for a second trunk.
For the side pole intrusion test, Musk touts that the Model S was the only car in the "good" category among the other top one percent of vehicles tested. Compared to the Volvo S60, which also is 5-star rated in all categories, the Model S preserved 63.5 percent of driver residual space versus 7.8 percent for the Volvo. Musk says his company achieved this outcome by nesting multiple deep aluminum extrusions in the side rail of the car that absorb the impact energy — a similar approach was used by the Apollo Lunar Lander — and transfer the load to the rest of the vehicle. This causes the pole to be either sheared off or to stop the car before the pole hits an occupant.
To address the rear crash test, Tesla says it installs a double bumper if the third-row children’s seat is ordered. This was needed in order to protect against a highway speed impact in the rear, significantly reducing the chance of permanently disabling injury to the third-row occupants.
The Model S also received top ratings in rollover risk, according to Musk. During testing at an independent facility, the Model S did not turn over via the normal methods and special means were used to induce the car to roll. With its battery pack mounted below the floor pan, the vehicle has a low center of gravity that ensures both exceptional handling and safety.
Perhaps one of the most impressive feats came during the roof crush protection validation test. Musk says the testing machine failed at just above 4 g's, indicating that at least four additional fully loaded Model S vehicles could be placed on top of an owner's car without the roof caving in. This is made possible primarily through a center (B) pillar reinforcement attached via aerospace grade bolts.
A recent report from the California New Car Dealers Association (CNCDA), using data sourced from Polk, found that in June the Model S outsold several well-established vehicle brands in California – including Porsche, Buick and Lincoln, Cadillac and both Jaguar and Land Rover combined.
This is no sales blip -- in 2013, Tesla has sold more cars in the Golden State than Land Rover, Jaguar, Lincoln Volvo or Porsche. Tesla's 4,714 registrations in California year-to-date (through June) give it a 0.6 percent market share in the state.
Though the Model S is often seen as a luxury model, Musk says he plans for Tesla to be a mainstream brand. However, Tesla has competed well with the full-line brands, exceeding the June registrations of Chrysler, Fiat and Mitsubishi, separately.
To help convince consumers that electric vehicles are more convenient than gasoline cars, in June Tesla introduced a new system that allows battery packs in electric vehicles to be swapped in roughly 90 seconds.
CNCDA has forecasted that about 1.75 million new vehicles will be sold this year in California, which would translate to more than 10,000 Tesla Model S sales in that state alone, if the current trend continues. Nearly half of Teslas sold to-date have been in California.
Based in San Francisco, Mike Hower is an Associate Editor at Sustainable Brands and writes about companies and organizations engaged in sustainability strategy, clean technology and social entrepreneurship. As a natural politico, he has a soft spot for anything related to public policy and the intersection of business and government. Mike also is Editor of Article 3, a media platform focused on the intersection of technology, politics and law, and Communications Manager at Rocket Lawyer. You also can connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter (@mikehower).