Tesla Model 3 Does What Its Big Brother Couldn’t In IIHS Crash Testing

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16 years, two months and 18 days after its founding by Eberhard and Tarpenning, Tesla finally walks the walk on vehicle safety.

Tesla and its current CEO, Elon Musk, have long talked the talk on safety. Perhaps to a fault. However, a new round of testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), has proven that Tesla’s Model 3 sedan can earn the highest score possible on the toughest tests conducted. The Model 3 has earned the Top Safety Pick Plus rating from IIHS, and its recognition by IIHS marks the first time that any Tesla has earned an award from the country’s most respected vehicle safety group.

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The Model 3 is Tesla’s fourth vehicle since inception and its entry-level model. Priced between about $40K and about $80K, the Model 3 is a battery-electric premium/performance sedan the size of a Civic. To say that the Model 3 is a game-changer is a vast understatement. It is the only mainstream-volume electric vehicle sold in America today, outselling other battery-electrics by as much as ten to one. The Model 3 also owns its segment. That being the former “BMW 3 Series” segment. The Model 3 outsells the BMW sedan now by about four to one in a bad month. In a good month of U.S. sales, the Model 3 outsells the combined efforts of all of its segment-mates. It is one of the fastest, most efficient, most interestingly-styled small sedans in the world, and now it has proven itself one of the safest.

“Vehicles with alternative powertrains have come into their own,” IIHS Chief Research Officer David Zuby says. “There’s no need to trade away safety for a lower carbon footprint when choosing a vehicle.” Quite the contrary actually. Many green vehicles such as Kia’s Niro, Toyota’s Prius, and Audi’s e-Tron have proven themselves worthy of IIHS awards. Whether affordable or premium, green vehicles match or exceed the ratings of their conventional counterparts.

The Model 3 scored Good on every crash test. The sedan also earned a Superior rating for its active safety systems and dodged a bullet when a redesign improved its headlights from a score of Acceptable to a score of Good. IIHS Testing revealed very little about the Model 3 that was not outstanding. The same was not true for the larger, more expensive Tesla Model S when it was tested. Initially, it scored lower than Good on the important small overlap frontal crash test. Tesla was given an opportunity to make changes to the Model S and it was re-tested. It still failed to earn a high score. Coupled with other low scores on headlights, the Model S has never earned any award from IIHS. In frustration, Tesla released the following statement:

“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 U.S. 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.”

Anyone who follows vehicle safety knows that IIHS’s testing is almost entirely objective, not subjective and that its “purposes” are protecting Americans from harm in vehicle-related incidents. And it wasn’t just IIHS that Tesla found itself sideways with in the past. After prior NHTSA government testing, Tesla was accused of exaggerating the test results – by the people who conducted the testing.

By contrast to Tesla’s actions following a poor test result, the company had a well-packaged overview of the Model 3 trumpeting its positive IIHS results ready to go on social media shortly after the story embargo was lifted at midnight last evening.

Tesla’s newest Model 3 safety testing results show that the company is maturing and its designs are improving. Those shoppers who value safety and are looking for a green vehicle of similar size to the Model 3, but who don’t have the budget to buy one just yet, may wish to consider the 2019 Honda Insight Hybrid. It starts at around $24K and has earned the same Top Safety Pick Plus designation as the Model 3.

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John Goreham

John Goreham

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