Is the Tesla Model 3 the safest car on the road?
It's not without its problems, but if there is one area where Tesla does excel it is the safety testing of its vehicles. According to the electric car company, the latest round of crash testing has placed its Model 3 at the very top of the tree in terms of lowest probability of injury to its occupants, with two earlier Tesla models relegated to the remaining spots on the podium.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had previously tested Tesla's Model S and Model X and granted them the lowest and second lowest probability of causing injuries to their passengers. A rear-wheel drive Model 3, which is based on the same architecture, was more recently given a five-star crash rating across the board last month.
But as CEO Elon Musk said at the time, these generalized ratings out of five don't tell the full story. The NHTSA also breaks down the likelihood of serious injury during frontal impacts, side on impacts and rollovers, taking into account how likely the car's design is to protect occupants from things like intruding pylons and engine blocks.
According to Tesla, the numbers are in and show that people inside a Model 3 are less likely to be seriously hurt in these kinds of crashes "than any other car," ending the reign of the Model S and pushing the Model X back to third place.
It's worth noting that this appears to be Tesla's interpretation of the crash test data, with nothing official available from the NHTSA at the time of writing. There is also the question of how NHTSA's safety testing might differ from other agencies around the world, and the possibility that cars only available in other regions might indeed be safer.
Semantics aside, the results do indicate the Model 3 to be the safest car in the USA, and the blog post trumpeting this point does offer an interesting breakdown of the safety advantages of electric car design.
With no engine to speak of and a motor fixed to the rear axle, the front end of the Model 3 serves as a crumple zone designed to absorb impact energy and control the deceleration of the people inside. This is helped further by airbags that dynamically adjust their pressure in response to the crash and a collapsible steering column.
Tesla says the performance when it comes to pole impacts, where a tall and thin structure barrels in between the car's main crash rails, is due to carefully placed lateral and diagonal beam structures. Its high resistance to rollover crashes, meanwhile, is attributed to the car's "extremely low" polar moment of inertia. This means its heaviest components, including its battery pack and motor, are placed as close as possible to the car's center of gravity.
Tesla has continually struggled to meet its production targets for the Model 3, though things do appear to be heading in a positive direction. The company has posted record losses this year, most recently a US$718 million net loss in Q2, but also upped production of the Model 3 to 7,000 a week by the end of June.
Hundreds of thousands of customers have pre-ordered the mass-market electric sedan so far.