Safety Boast Sparked Back-and-forth With Feds, Subpoenas, Docs Reveal

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Tesla Model 3

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration took exception to Tesla’s suggestion that a person is less likely to suffer injury in its vehicles than those built any other manufacturer, documents reveal. Advocacy group PlainSite obtained the docs via a FOI request, shedding light on both the NHTSA’s concern re: Tesla’s safety claims, as well as subpoenas issued in the pursuit of information following several Tesla crashes.

Last October, the NHTSA fired off a crease and desist letter to Tesla after the automaker claimed the agency’s crash data showed its Model 3 surpassed the five-star ranking issued for the model. This was a misleading statement and improper use of data, the NHTSA said. Since that time, crashes involving Tesla vehicles have earned the company additional scrutiny from the road safety regulator.

Following the initial dustup, the NHTSA tipped off the Federal Trade Commission to see if Tesla truly misled potential buyers with its boast, thus breaking the law.

The safety agency also sought information pertaining to crashes on at least five occasions, including after a fatal March collision in Florida. In a statement to Bloomberg following the document dump, the NHTSA said it “is committed to rigorous and appropriate safety oversight of the industry and encourages any potential safety issue be reported to NHTSA.”

The agency doesn’t normally use subpoenas to retrieve information following crashes. A former NHTSA official told the publication the subpoenas could indicate a formal investigation is in the works, as the documents show the agency honing in on a certain component of the automaker’s Autopilot driver-assist system.

“I think what this shows is that NHTSA has concerns about Autopilot performance,” said Frank Borris, former director of the NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation.

Unswayed by the document reveal and ongoing federal attention, a Tesla spokesperson told Reuters Wednesday that the company stands by its earlier claims. The boasts were not that the Model 3 is the safest car, Tesla says; rather, the model was engineered to be the safest car ever built. The company claims the NHTSA crash data remains valid.

[Image: Tesla]

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