The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has just released its comprehensive list of the safest vehicles for 2019. Here’s why both Volvo and Tesla models did not make that list.
Each year, The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) releases a list of the safest vehicles in America. The list is broken down into two parts. Vehicles that have earned the Top Safety Pick designation, and those that have earned the highest safety rating in the country, the Top Safety Pick Plus award. On this year’s list of the 57 models that earned these two levels of safety, there are no models from Volvo and no models from Tesla. BestRide spoke with the researchers at IIHS to find out why.
We spoke with Joe Young and David Aylor. Mr. Young is our daily contact for all things safety and gave us a very detailed background picture of how IIHS works with automakers to prepare well in advance for publication of the list. It turns out that the models on the list are not random. Rather, IIHS offers up testing space on its calendar as much as a year in advance so that automakers can nominate vehicles they want to be tested for possible inclusion on the list. Most automakers nominate multiple models they are confident will earn top scores when tested. They have that confidence because they have already tested the vehicles themselves and they know the expected outcome.
In the case of the luxury electric vehicle automaker Tesla, which frequently touts Tesla cars as the safest in the world (but not based on IIHS testing), the company opted not to nominate any of its three models. To say it plainly, Tesla passed on the chance to have its cars held to the same high standards that other automakers are. Look at past IIHS testing of the Model S luxury sedan and one can get a clue as to why. Tesla’s Model S has twice failed to meet the required level of crash protection in the important small frontal overlap crash test. In past IIHS headlight testing, the Model S scored “Poor.” Without any changes since these recent tests, the Model S had little chance of advancing its ranking.
With regard to the top-selling compact Tesla Model 3 premium performance sedan, the answer is less obvious. The Model 3 has not yet been crash tested by IIHS, though it has tested its headlights and active safety systems, both of which now earn the scores of “Good” and “Superior” required to earn a spot on one of the lists. The Model 3, which went on sale in July of 2017, is now the 6th-leading seller among all cars in the U.S. The Model 3 sales surpassed all of Audi’s vehicle models combined in America last month.
Volvo’s story is entirely different. David Aylor is the Manager of Active Safety Testing at IIHS and told us in more detail why Volvo models did not make this list. Like the EPA does with mileage testing, IIHS accepts some third-party testing data from the automakers. In some cases, if a model has had some minor updates a previous high score on a test can be revalidated by automakers who then submit video, photo, and sensor data to IIHS for review. This year, Volvo was unable to meet a key deadline and its models were not able to be validated in time for the list. Fear not Volvo faithful, the models are not rated poorly, they are just not rated at all yet.
So which brands and which models did make it onto this year’s list? A quick glance will show that it is dominated by Asian and European brands like Hyundai, Toyota, Kia, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW. One thing to note is that among the top performers there are many affordable vehicles that earn higher scores than very expensive models their same size. For Example, the 2019 Mazda CX-5 crossover outscored the BMW X2 and the Toyota Camry’s score is higher than the Audi A4’s. If there is any correlation between cost and safety in 2019, we can’t see it from looking at the testing results.
David Harkey, IIHS President, points out that the list published this week is not the end of 2019 model year vehicles that may earn high scores at some point. Mr. Harkey said, “Automakers always have the opportunity to add vehicles to the list. As 2019 progresses, we expect the winners’ circle to grow as automakers make improvements to their vehicles.”
Author Note: BestRide reached out to Tesla for input on this story. The company’s media relations representative responded by phone by declined to comment on the record.