Tesla Motors Inc.â€™s Model S, once touted by the company as achieving a record-high safety score, fell short of a top designation an insurance group has awarded to 42 other new models on the market.
The Model S sedan earned an acceptable rating in one of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safetyâ€™s five crash tests, a level shy of the good rating needed to qualify for the groupâ€™s Top Safety Pick accolade, according to a statement. The car earned good ratings in the four other crash-test categories.
Dummy measurements taken after a small overlap test, which measures how vehicles perform in front-left corner crashes, showed drivers could sustain a possible skull fracture, according to IIHS. The result of this test, in which the car collides with a rigid barrier at 40 miles per hour, led the group to downgrade Model S despite its body structure performing well enough for a good rating.
â€œItâ€™s a pretty narrow miss on Teslaâ€™s part,â€ said David Zuby, chief research officer for the insurer-funded group. â€œHead contact, while it is a concern, is not a big enough concern that we called it anything less than acceptable.â€
The results contrast with claims Tesla made in August 2013 that the Model S achieved the â€œbest safety rating of any car ever testedâ€ following crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The government agency cautioned in its own statement at the time that it rated vehicles as much as 5 stars and didnâ€™t rank or order vehicles within its star-rating categories.
IIHS plans to test an updated Model S in the coming weeks, which Tesla expects to earn â€œthe highest possible rating in every categoryâ€ and be eligible for the Top Safety Pick award, the Palo Alto-based company said in a statement. â€œWe are committed to making the worldâ€™s safest cars, and Model S has previously received a 5-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,â€ Tesla said in its statement. â€œModel S still has the lowest ever probability of injury of any car ever tested by NHTSA.â€
Itâ€™s not uncommon for the same vehicle to perform differently in IIHS and NHTSA crash tests, Zuby said. In the insurance groupâ€™s test, the dummyâ€™s head hit the Model S steering wheel through the airbag after the carâ€™s seat belt allowed the dummyâ€™s torso to move too far forward. To address the problem, Tesla said it made a production line change in January that it expects to address the issue.