Electric Cars

Model S falls short of IIHS award, so Tesla trash-talks IIHS

The Model S, Chevrolet Impala and Ford Taurus all received a score of Acceptable in the difficult small-overlap front crash test, yet you don't hear a peep from Ford or GM...

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
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When Tesla gets some good news, it shouts it from the mountaintops, as it did with the Model X's federal crash test rating. When Tesla gets bad news, it occasionally goes on the offensive, as is the case today.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Thursday released the results of several full-size crash tests: the Lincoln Continental, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Toyota Avalon, Tesla Model S, Chevrolet Impala and Ford Taurus. The first three cars all received the Top Safety Pick+ accolade. The latter three received no award.

The Tesla Model S received Good ratings in all but one test -- the difficult small overlap front crash test, in which it received the second-best score of Acceptable. Even after making changes to its seatbelt, which allowed a dummy's torso to move too far forward during the crash, the test results remained the same. Additional cabin intrusion from the left wheel lowered its structural rating score, while its LED headlights were rated Poor for some glare and iffy visibility in corners.

A little bit o' duct tape and she'll be good as new.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

In order for a car to qualify for Top Safety Pick, a car must earn Good ratings in all five crash tests, as well as an Advanced or Superior rating for front crash prevention tech. Top Safety Pick+ has all those same requirements, but it also requires headlights to be rated Acceptable or Good. Tesla's Model S was not tested for front crash prevention, as late-model vehicles only recently had this system enabled by a wireless update.

Most automakers that miss these targets will give a reply along the lines of, "We'll make some modifications and try again." Tesla, on the other hand, went a little harder in the paint. Its statement, which is included below, alleges that nongovernment entities have "motivations that suit their own subjective purposes," which is sort of ridiculous when referring to a group that crashes every car in exactly the same fashion to figure out how safe it is.

"IIHS conducts safety tests to provide consumers with objective information about which vehicles perform the best for crashworthiness and crash prevention," said Russ Rader, an IIHS spokesman, via email. "Our view is that to be considered a top-tier performer, a vehicle should earn the highest safety ratings across the board in IIHS tests as well as those conducted by the federal government." Many automakers, Tesla included, have modified their vehicles to better perform on IIHS crash tests.

The remainder of Tesla's statement reiterates its official government crash-test scores. As Green Car Reports points out, though, the latest Tesla Model S variants all remain unrated by the feds. The most recent Model S to receive a five-star federal crash test rating was an "early release" 2016 model with rear-wheel drive.

Tesla's full statement is below:

Tesla's Model S received the highest rating in IIHS's crash testing in every category except for one, the small overlap front crash test, where it received the second highest rating available. While IIHS and dozens of other private industry groups around the world have methods and motivations that suit their own subjective purposes, the most objective and accurate independent testing of vehicle safety is currently done by the US government, which found Model S and Model X to be the two cars with the lowest probability of injury of any cars that it has ever tested, making them the safest cars in history.

The average rate for insuring a Model S or Model X is about 5 percent lower than other premium vehicles, with some insurance providers charging 20 or 30 percent lower premiums than comparable cars. Indeed, Tesla guarantees that there will always be an insurance provider that will charge less for a Model S or X than any other car with a similar driver, price and vehicle category.

Update, 11:56 a.m. Eastern: Added IIHS' comment.