Recent crash tests reveal potential safety issues with Tesla Model S

Posted February 02, 2017

As for the 2017 i3, the smallest electric model in BMW's lineup earned "good" ratings in the following tests: small overlap and moderate overlap, side, and roof strength. The impact could result in injuries to the head and lower right leg during a collision. Zuby said the crash tests proved electric vehicles could provide safety while also offering the benefits of lower emissions.

The IIHS tested only the cloth-covered, manually-operated seats on the entry-level i3. The P100D has the same roof structure as other Model S versions but is heavier, due to a larger battery, so it earns an acceptable rating.

The Insurance Institute For Highway Safety says Tesla and BMW are aware of the problems and are fixing them.

"We expect to receive the highest possible rating in every category, making Model S eligible for the IIHS Top Safety Pick award", the spokesperson said. The i3 earned the second-highest rating of "acceptable" for its headlights. Although each Model S has the hardware for forward crash prevention, Tesla hasn't yet activated the software for all of its vehicles. The "plus" is awarded to vehicles that meet all those criteria and also come with good or acceptable headlights (see "In the best light: 2017 Top Safety Pick+ winners meet new headlight criteria", December 8, 2016).

The BMW i3 fell short in the head restraint test, which measures how well the vehicle protects an occupant's head in a rear crash.

"Neither of these (potential injuries) were so high that we would expect life threatening injuries, but they are too high in our opinion to get "Good" ratings for those body regions", said Dave Zuby of IIHS.

According to IIHS, the tests were on Tesla cars built after October 2016.

Tesla Motors Inc.'s new Model S luxury sedans may not be quite as safe as some believe, particularly in a frontal crash, according to tests conducted by an independent safety test organization. An optional front protection system, when fitted, nudges the i3 into the "advanced" rating.

The Nissan Leaf has also been subjected to the Virginia-based non-profit's extensive testing; the design, now seven years old, received a "Poor" rating for the small overlap front test. As a result, the Model S earned only an "Acceptable" rating in that area instead of the "Good" required to make it a Top Safety Pick. When it hasn't been plugged in, the Prius Prime gets 54 miles per gallon, while the Volt gets 42 mpg. The IIHS says it plans to test the Chevrolet Bolt EV, Chevy's all-electric hatchback, once vehicles are more widely available later in 2017.

In the 2017 model year, 38 vehicles have won the "Top Safety Pick-Plus" designation, including two plug-in hybrids: the Toyota Prius Prime and the Chevrolet Volt.