NHTSA called for Tesla to drop 'misleading' safety claims

Marco Green
August 8, 2019

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has warned Tesla about making 'misleading' safety claims about its cars.

Tesla has for years boasted about the ideal 5-star safety ratings its cars have received from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Without naming Tesla, the NHTSA argued that its "5-star rating is the highest safety rating a vehicle can achieve". The Verge notes that in August 2013, Tesla claimed the Model S received "a new combined record of 5.4 stars".

NHTSA lawyers took issue with an October 7 Tesla blog post that said the Model 3 had achieved the lowest probability of injury of any vehicle the agency ever tested, the documents released Tuesday by the legal transparency group Plainsite show.

"This is not the first time that Tesla has disregarded the guidelines in a manner that may lead to consumer confusion and give Tesla an unfair market advantage", Jonathan Morrison, chief counsel at NHTSA, wrote in an October 17 letter addressed to Musk.

Tesla, meanwhile, maintains that its information regarding injury probability is based on "sound public data" and that it does not "contravene NHTSA's guidelines".

This is not the first time that Tesla has disregarded the Guidelines...

In the letter sent to Tesla, NHTSA said it was referring its concerns about Tesla's claims to the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection.

The FTC has not commented on the case.

The former head of the New York Stock Exchange took direct aim at Tesla on Wednesday, warning that "false and misleading claims" by the automaker can make it hard to determine what to believe.

The documents revealed that NHTSA sent Tesla at least five subpoenas from April 2018 through March 2019 related to vehicle crashes, with a request for information about another crash sent in June. 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 NHTSA would have liked Tesla to stop there. Instead, Tesla dug into the NHTSA's data and spotted an opportunity to further toot its own horn. That, in Tesla's view, means that a Model 3 driver is less likely to be injured in a crash than a driver of any other vehicle.

But the NHTSA argues that this is statistical malpractice because it doesn't take into account vehicle weight. The NHTSA, however, is none too pleased with how Tesla chose to articulate and spin the test results to the public. The agency said then that it doesn't rate vehicles beyond 5 stars.

Tesla has been involved in a number of disputes with the federal government in recent years, including one instance last year that resulted in CEO Elon Musk relinquishing his additional post as chairman. And its private response to the NHTSA was equally defiant.

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

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

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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