Elon Musk is known for bold and controversial statements, such as Tesla will have 1 million robotaxis on the road next year. However, one of his company’s latest claims has landed Tesla in hot water with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
A taxpayer-funded agency, NHTSA sent a cease-and-desist letter to Tesla last October regarding the safety claims of the Model 3. According to the organization, Tesla made unsubstantiated statements about the safety of the model. In a blog post entitled “Model 3 achieves the lowest probability of injury of any vehicle ever tested by NHTSA,” Tesla touts the car as topping NHTSA’s list for safety of all the cars it tested.
That was news to the NHTSA. In a request for public records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), PlainSite obtained all the correspondence between Tesla and NHTSA. On October 17, 2018 the NHTSA wrote, “This letter serves as notice that your use of the NHTSA 5-Star Ratings and associated data is inconsistent with NHTSA’S Government 5-Star Ratings for Motor Vehicles Advertising and Usage Guidelines.”
In response, Tesla said that the blog statements were based on test results from NHTSA’s own data for determining risk and probability of injury. Apparently, the agency didn’t agree with Tesla’s application of its data.
In addition, NHTSA told Musk that due to his company previously not conforming to the guidelines, that it was referring the matter to the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection to investigate whether the statements “constitute unfair or deceptive acts or practices.” Moreover, NHTSA issued subpoenas to Tesla for information on several relevant crashes.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Consumers take NHTSA’s ratings seriously. A high ranking can be one of the main selling points for a vehicle. If an automaker misrepresents its standing, it can unduly affect a purchasing decision. And, it also puts into question the credibility of NHTSA.