In response to the Tesla Model S's acceptable rating in one of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's crash tests, the automaker issued a statement questioning the agency's "methods and motivations," according to a Reuters report.
The electric sedan earned just an acceptable grade in the agency's tough small overlap front test, but that wasn't the only issue preventing it from qualifying for Top Safety Pick Plus status; it also has poorly rated headlights and an untested front crash prevention system. While automatic braking comes standard on the Model S, the software for the feature was only recently activated.
In the agency's other tests, the Model S received the highest score of good, but success in the small overlap front test has proven elusive. The Model S previously earned an acceptable rating in this test, which is meant to simulate a crash with the front driver-side corner striking a barrier or other car at 40 miles per hour, and Tesla made modifications. IIHS retested the Model S, but the crash had the same results. IIHS said that, in the test, the sedan's safety belt let the dummy's torso move too far forward, so the head struck the steering wheel hard through the airbag.
"Tesla made changes to the safety belt in vehicles built after January with the intent of reducing the dummy's forward movement," IIHS said in a statement. "However, when IIHS tested the modified Model S, the same problem occurred, and the rating didn't change."
Tesla refutes the score and is challenging the agency. The automaker told Reuters that crash tests performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are the most objective and accurate. In NHTSA's tests, both the Model S and Model X SUV earned five stars, the government's highest rating.
IIHS stands by its crash tests. "IIHS conducts safety tests to provide consumers with objective information about which vehicles perform the best for crash protection and crash prevention," said Russ Rader, senior vice president of communications for IIHS. "Our view is that to be considered a top-tier performer, a vehicle should earn the highest safety ratings across the board in IIHS tests as well as those conducted by the federal government."