Monday, 23 September 2013 16:23

What Does Tesla’s Record-setting Safety Rating Say to the Collision Industry?

Tesla’s recent perfect 5-star safety rating is unprecedented and the highest in the history of automotive safety testing. It took all the former numbers and crushed them, when independent testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awarded the Tesla Model S a five-star safety rating in every subcategory without exception.

Only one percent of all cars tested by the federal government have achieved five stars across the board. Furthermore, NHTSA does not just hand out top ratings, so these scores are significant and have caught the attention of other carmakers, the press and the public, as well as collision and mechanical repair shops that want to work on these elite vehicles.

Tesla Motors, Inc. is a Palo Alto, California-based company that designs, manufactures and sells electric cars and electric vehicle powertrain components. The Tesla Model S is the first premium sedan built from the ground up as an electric vehicle. The company sold 10,500 Model S sedans during the first six months of 2013, and forecasts that they will be selling 40,000 models annually by fourth quarter 2014.

Of all vehicles tested, including every major make and model approved for sale in the United States, the Tesla Model S set a new record for the lowest likelihood of injury to occupants. While the Model S is a sedan, it also exceeded the safety score of all SUVs and minivans. This score takes into account the probability of injury from front, side, rear and rollover accidents, according to a press release recently released by Tesla.

Now the $64,000 question out there is—how can body shops get certified to work on these increasingly popular and very safe cars? Tesla’s Communications Manager Shanna Hendriks recently addressed these inquiries about the manufacturer’s newly developed certification program.

“Tesla has a dedicated repair and training program that interested body shops can go through to become recognized as a Tesla Approved Collision Repair Center. One of the things that makes the Model S unique is that the car is made of aluminum, so body shops need to have aluminum-based repair abilities. Body shops can inquire about the training program by sending an email to Collisio-techinfo@teslamotors.com.”

Amato’s Auto Body is proud of the fact that they will soon be the only Tesla-certified collision facility in the San Diego area, according to Body Shop Manager Perry Anderson. “It’s an exciting time for Tesla, so we’re very happy to be involved,” he explained. “These vehicles are becoming more and more popular and we’re seeing more of them here in our shop. Right now, we have six Teslas that we’re working on. It’s definitely a privilege to be able to work on these exceptional cars.”

If other body shops are inquiring about how to become Tesla-certified, they may have to wait for a while, Anderson said. “It’s invitation-only, from what they’ve told us. Tesla is pretty much in a position where they can pick and choose who they want working on these cars. Tesla contacted us because we were already certified to work on a lot of other high-end luxury vehicles, so they knew the learning curve would not be daunting for us. We are factory-trained and certified to work on six luxury brands, including Aston Martin. I think the people at Tesla were attracted to us because of our Aston Martin certification, because both car makers use similar materials and obviously some of the repair techniques are alike in some ways. Both of them are made of aluminum, so the bonding technology used is very similar. With both, you need special rivet guns and glue guns and with aluminum, you have to have a clean room as well.

“The people from Tesla came here and inspected our facility to make sure we were capable of repairing these cars,” Anderson said. “Once we were onboard, we had to invest in some new equipment, including a Fronius welder, but the biggest thing has been the training. Tesla wants us to know these cars inside; be able to completely disassemble them and then put them back together perfectly.”

By putting several of their shop’s 41 technicians through the Tesla training, Amato’s now has a core group that can work on the cars, but the process is ongoing. “We have two technicians that have gone through the Tesla Fit and Finish class and now have 80 hours under their belts,” Anderson said. “Tesla just recently rolled out new training this summer, so once we complete the rest of the training within the next few months, we’ll be officially certified and have the plaque on the wall.”

What does Anderson think about Tesla’s recent safety numbers? “I’m not surprised,” he said. “One came into the shop one day and it had obviously been hit pretty seriously. The front end was caved in and it was a total loss, but the woman walked away without a scratch and even the car doors opened and closed perfectly. All we said was ‘wow.’ ”

Other interesting facts about the astounding safety ratings earned recently by Tesla include:

The Model S has the advantage in the front of not having a large gasoline engine block, thus creating a much longer crumple zone to absorb a high speed impact. This is fundamentally a force over distance problem—the longer the crumple zone, the more time there is to slow down occupants at g-loads that do not cause injuries. Just like jumping into a pool of water from a tall height, it is better to have the pool be deep and not contain rocks. The Model S motor is only about a foot in diameter and is mounted close to the rear axle, and the front section that would normally contain a gasoline engine is used for a second trunk.

The rear crash testing was particularly important, given the optional third row children’s seat. For this, Tesla factory installs a double bumper if the third row seat is ordered. This was needed in order to protect against a highway speed impact in the rear with no permanently disabling injury to the third row occupants. The third row is already the safest location in the car for frontal or side injuries.

The Model S was also substantially better in rollover risk, with the other top vehicles being approximately 50 percent worse. During testing at an independent facility, the Model S refused to turn over via the normal methods and special means were needed to induce the car to roll. The reason for such a good outcome is that the battery pack is mounted below the floor pan, providing a very low center of gravity, which simultaneously ensures exceptional handling and safety.

In addition, the lithium-ion battery in the Model S did not catch fire at any time before, during or after the NHTSA testing. It is worth mentioning that no production Tesla lithium-ion battery has ever caught fire in the Model S or Roadster, despite several high speed impacts. While this is statistically unlikely to remain the case long term, Tesla is unaware of any Model S or Roadster occupant fatalities in any car ever.