First things first, congratulations to Tesla — the Model 3 just got a 5 star rating from Euro NCAP. Not only that, it got the best Euro NCAP score (so far at least) for 2019. Update: It appears the Euro NCAP tests did not change from 2018 to 2019 and the 2018 Mercedes-Benz A-Call scored 1 percentage point higher. The article has been updated accordingly.
🥁🥁🥁 🥁🥁🥁 🥁🥁🥁 please:
— Tesla (@Tesla) July 3, 2019
Following the news, I immediately went to the NCAP website and started poking through the numbers. Euro NCAP basically tests 4 safety categories: Adult Occupant, Child Occupant, Vulnerable Road Users, and Safety Assist, which when added together make up an overall score. Now, unfortunately, it’s not all perfect news for Tesla, which I’ll get to in a moment. First, let’s start off with the really good news and then move on to the imperfect (but also not bad) news.
The Good News:
Overall, the Tesla Model 3 has set a new record for overall score, 87% (or 348 percentage points out of 400), followed very closely by the Volkswagen T-Cross (2019), which had 86% (or 344 points out of 400). I was originally going to list a top 5, but for some reason the numbers don’t add up afterwards with the Mazda 3 (2019) at 84.75%, then the Škoda Scala (2019) with a higher rating of 85.25%, and so on. It might be a small margin of error due to rounding on their part, but until we know what’s going on we will skip that kind of comparison. Update: Euro NCAP states:
Sorting by overall rating simply arranges the cars into five-star cars, then four-stars etc. It does not look at any of the scores in the individual boxes (although sorting can also be done on those). I’m not sure if there is a second sort criterion when sorted by star rating. If so, it is not obvious what it is as it is not alphabetic. Maybe it is by release date but I am not sure.
In the category of safety assistance systems, the Model 3 scores 94%, which is not only a record, it’s a record by a huge margin since second place is the Citroën C5 at 82% — 12 percentage points lower. Third place is the Volkswagen T-Cross, at 80%, and all other numbers are under 80%, with the lowest 5 star overall rating getting 71% in this category — and by some pure chance for irony, that happens to be the Nissan Leaf. Nonetheless, requirements have gone up significantly since 2018 introduced more rigorous tests. The previous lowest number in this category in 2017 that got 5 stars overall was the Mini Countryman with a 51% score.
The not bad but not amazing news:
These are the scores for all 4 categories. In the other categories, Tesla still scores fairly well:
- 9th place (out of 21) in Adult Occupancy Safety (of the 2019 tests)
- 11th place (out of 21) in Vulnerable Road Users (2019 tests)
- 13th place (out of 21) in Child Occupant (2019 tests)
Look, the numbers aren’t bad by any means compared to the other cars of 2019, 2018, and all the years before it. Nonetheless, I somehow expected more from the Model 3, especially considering that Tesla and Elon Musk always say that Tesla is the safest car on the road by far due to the electric drivetrain, low center of gravity, and so on. Is it too much to ask that Tesla is #1 everywhere?
Its all about perspective and severity of the crash
Is the Tesla Model 3 a heck of a lot better at avoiding a crash? Hell yes, no doubt about it. The data prove it once again. Autopilot and all the safety systems built into the car fill us with confidence. When I watched the video of the safety tests (video below), I got the feeling that these tests are not as extreme as they could be. These tests are for most modern cars not fatal for the occupants. I do honestly think that if these tests were more extreme, the Model 3 would come out far on top. What it really comes down to is if the car will more likely keep you alive than any other car.
The large front crumple zone of a Tesla, thanks to no combustion engine (which can get pushed into the occupants in a crash), makes a lot of sense. The point that the battery is so heavy and results in a low center of gravity, which will prevent the car from rolling over, is a well observed fact. That the electric skateboard drivetrain allowed Tesla to design a sturdier side pillar and body frame to better protect occupants makes a lot of sense as well. It all adds up.
Why doesn’t Tesla beat everyone in every category?
Here’s what’s bothering me. Tesla is a company full of miracle workers. Why aren’t they beating the other brands in every category? Is that an achievable goal for them?
What’s keeping Model 3’s hood from looking like that of the 2019 Toyota Corolla? Is it the aerodynamic gains the Model 3 has that have come at the expense of pedestrian safety? Is it protection of the occupants? Is it something else?
Update: Euro NCAP says that, according to Tesla, the Model 3 doesn’t have an active hood.
As for the Child Occupant score, it is a lot more complicated to explain. Basically, the comment Euro NCAP made about Tesla in that area is here: “In the frontal offset test, dummy readings of neck tension indicated marginal protection of this body region for the 10 year old. Otherwise, protection of both child dummies was good.”
This is a complicated matter and something definitely looks strange here when you dig further. This test is made out of 3 parts, as seen in this screenshot of the best score, the Mercedes-Benz GLE (2019) at 90%:
Now here is the score for the Tesla Model 3:
The one comment was about 6 & 10 year olds, but Tesla does better than Mercedes in that category. Instead, it scores lower in safety features. However, when expanded both look identical:
The PDF report doesn’t reveal any useful additional information either. While reaching out to Euro NCAP, we also included this question and will also update if we hear back. Update: Euro NCAP states:
“In Child Occupant Protection, the website only shows part of what is assessed in the ‘Safety Features’ part of the rating – it just shows the availability of iSize, ISOFIX etc, for which Tesla and GLE are, indeed, exactly the same and score the same points. The GLE’s additional two points come from the fact that it has an automatic airbag disabling system in the front passenger seat whereas the Tesla has a manual system. So the Tesla scores seven points in this section; the GLE scores nine.”
One thing clearly missing from the Model 3 that can be found in some other cars is a driver Knee Airbag and a Rear Side Chest Airbag.
What is also important to note is that if you narrow the search to cars with driver assistance systems like AEB (Autonomous Emergency Breaking), the number of results goes down from 21 to 5–7 cars (5 if you include AEB Cyclist)
Especially from an insurance perspective, a crash avoided is better than a safe crash at any speed.
I’m just going to keep this really short and to the point. Is the Model 3 the safest vehicle overall? Yes, especially when it comes to not getting into an accident in the first place. Is the Tesla Model 3 the safest car in a moderate crash as tested by Euro NCAP? Not in every category, but it still extremely safe compared to cars made before 2018 and in a pretty good middle place for cars made since. Is the Tesla Model 3 the safest car in an extreme crash? Quite likely, and while that is speculation, it is based on a lot of evidence from severe crashes seen in the news and testimony from emergency services at the sites of crashes who said that “normally people do not survive or walk away from this kind of crash.”
Can Elon and Tesla proudly proclaim the Model 3 the safest car in the world? In a nutshell, I’d say yes as long as there is a note clarifying what that means if mentioned in official communications like the quarterly shareholder letter.
Also, here’s the video of the tests if you want to have a look:
Here is also the link to the website if you want to poke through the report yourself.
All images via Euro NCAP