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Originally published August 20, 2013 at 8:03 PM | Page modified August 21, 2013 at 1:00 PM

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Tesla’s Model S aces federal crash tests

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration confirmed Tuesday that Tesla’s Model S sedan received five-star ratings in every category set by the agency.

San Jose Mercury News

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Tesla Motors says its all-electric Model S sedan has received the highest crash- test ratings of any car ever tested by federal regulators. Not only that: Tesla says it was nearly impossible to roll the Model S over during the tests, and that a machine used to crush roofs in another test broke because the Model S is so strong.

Nathan Naylor, a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), confirmed Tuesday that Tesla received a five-star rating but stressed that the federal agency does not rank autos against each other, leaving it unclear whether the NHTSA agrees with Tesla that the Model S received the highest crash- test ratings ever.

Naylor confirmed, however, that the Model S got five-star ratings in every category set by the safety agency.

The top safety ratings are a significant honor for the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company and its CEO, Elon Musk, who takes pride in the fact that there have been no reported Model S or Tesla Roadster occupant fatalities.

“Of all vehicles tested, including every major make and model approved for sale in the United States, the Model S set a new record for the lowest likelihood of injury to occupants,” Tesla said in a statement released late Monday. “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.”

The NHTSA estimates that 34,080 people died in motor- vehicle traffic crashes in 2012, an increase of 5.3 percent from 2011.

Theo O’Neill, an analyst with Litchfield Hills Research, said a segment of the population will find the safety ratings a compelling reason to buy the Model S, which has a base price of about $70,000 before a federal subsidy.

“As a father, I find this will make it easier to convince my wife that we should buy one of these beauties,” O’Neill said.

One reason Tesla offered for the high safety ratings of the Model S is that its front end contains a storage space it calls a “frunk” rather than a gasoline engine, creating a longer “crumple zone” to absorb the impact of any high-speed crash. Also, if Model S owners order a third-row seat for children, Tesla installs a double bumper to protect against any rear crashes.

During testing by the NHTSA, the Model S “refused to turn over via the normal methods,” Tesla said, because of the car’s very low center of gravity. And during a roof crush-protection test, it said, the testing machine failed rather than the roof.

“During validation of Model S roof crush protection at an independent commercial facility, the testing machine failed at just above 4 gs,” Tesla said. “While the exact number is uncertain due to the Model S breaking the testing machine, what this means is that at least four additional fully loaded Model S vehicles could be placed on top of an owner’s car without the roof caving in.”

The safety test news sent Tesla’s stock up 3.2 percent to $149.58 in Tuesday’s trading. The company’s shares have increased more than fourfold so far this year.

Karl Brauer, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, said Tesla continues to impress.

“The Model S isn’t just about cutting-edge drivetrain technology or sleek styling or capable performance or premium interior features or unrivaled occupant safety,” said Brauer. “It’s all of those things in one compelling design package.”

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