Published: Sun, August 11, 2019
Markets | By Erika Turner

NHTSA called for Tesla to drop 'misleading' safety claims

NHTSA called for Tesla to drop 'misleading' safety claims

One statement that NHTSA found to be misleading was, "NHTSA's tests also show that [Tesla Model 3] has the lowest probability of injury of all cars the safety agency has ever tested". But Tesla has stood by the claim.

The internal documents were released on Tuesday by PlainSite, which acquired them through Freedom of Information Act requests.

In its cease-and-desist letter, the NHTSA said Tesla had made "misleading statements" about how the company interpreted the association's safety rating toward the Model 3. "Your use of NHTSA's 5-star ratings and associated data is inconsistent with" the NHTSA's guidelines".

It isn't clear from the documents if NHTSA or the FTC are pursuing legal action against Tesla at this time. We have therefore also referred this matter to the Federal Trade Commission Bureau of Consumer Protection to investigate whether these statements constitute unfair or deceptive acts or practices.

An FTC spokesman said only that "investigations are non-public, and we don't comment on ... the existence of an investigation". Now, not only has Model 3 achieved a ideal 5-star safety rating in every category and sub-category, but NHTSA's tests also show that it has the lowest probability of injury of all cars the safety agency has ever tested. There's no disputing that the Model 3 performed well on these tests, achieving five stars-the agency's highest rating-across the board. Instead, Tesla dug into the NHTSA's data and spotted an opportunity to further toot its own horn. The agency said its crash tests combine into an overall safety rating and that it doesn't rank vehicles that score the same ratings.

The newswire noted the lawsuit alleges that plaintiff David Rasmussen's 2014 Model S 85 lost battery capacity equivalent to about 8kWh, but was told by Tesla the degradation was normal.

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But the NHTSA argues that this is statistical malpractice because it doesn't take into account vehicle weight. The NHTSA's tests, which involve crashing a vehicle into fixed objects, don't necessarily account for this difference.

Lost in the back and forth is the fact that Tesla's crash test results are legitimately outstanding.

While the Model 3 continues to be the best-selling electric vehicle worldwide, and accounting for four out of five EV sales in the United States alone, it has not engendered a take up of other BEV models, says EV-Volumes. The Verge notes that in August 2013, Tesla claimed the Model S received "a new combined record of 5.4 stars". And its private response to the NHTSA was equally defiant. The Agency demanded that the company stop position the electric vehicle in this way. Thus, when a crash happens, the body of the heavier vehicle is able to absorb more impact caused by the collision.

Tesla went on to add that NHTSA's test results show that "if you are driving a Tesla, you have the best chance of avoiding serious injury".

"Based on the foregoing, we do not see a reason to discontinue use of these statements", the company concluded.

NHTSA did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment by phone and email.

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