When Tesla Motors announced a few weeks ago that its Model S sedan had received across-the-board five-star safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), it showed some fundamental design differences between electric vehicles (EVs) and gas-burning cars. EVs have a lower center of gravity and a bigger crumple zone. They also use a less volatile fuel.
The differences aren't great. Today's vehicles are so much safer than their predecessors, but gas-burning cars are still extremely safe, even with the ever-present internal combustion engine. "Does an electric car give you a 50 percent better chance of survival in a crash? Absolutely not," David Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research, told us. "But there's a difference, even though it's not a big one. Most of today's vehicles are very safe."
We've gathered some photos of pure EVs, plug-in hybrids, and a few conventional gas-burning cars. Their safety ratings show the difference between EVs and non-EVs, but only subtly. Click the photo below to start the slideshow, and then decide for yourself.
The 2014 Ford Focus EV earned NHTSA five-star safety ratings across the board -- overall, frontal crash, side crash, and rollover protection. (Source: Ford Motor Co., NHTSA)
You're right Cabe, we have certain reasonable expectations about safety in the vehicles we buy. Sometimes, we can see there's a problem -- the Smart Car on the road with all these giants SUVs -- but we don't expect the materials the car is made from to let us down.
I agree with ChriSharek, if I'm dropping that kind of money on a vehicle (no matter what kind it is) it better be able to handle anything thrown at it within reason. Obviously, I wouldn't expect to come out alive after tumbling 150 feet down a mountain overpass and then bursting into flames.
Yes, those EVs are quiet, Naperlou. The blind community is very upset out the lack of noise from EVs. They're trying to get the automakers to produce an artificial noise for EVs so blind people know when they're coming.
A comparison of the Porsche Panamera, BMW M5, and Mercedes AMG C-class and the Tesla Model S would be interesting - from a crash rating perspective. The cost and performance for these vehicles is comparable. But for $100k+, I would hope nothing less than 5 stars would do . . .
Obviously an all-electric drivetrain offers more flexibility in location and distribution of major/heavy components in the vehicle, which enables designers to not have as many tradeoffs when it comes to safety.
I agree TJ. I would attribute Tesla's safety scores to the company's excellence in producing its product and not any intrinsic superiority of an EV vehicle. Chuck's slideshow seems to indicate the power train isn't the critical factor.
A locally made all electric taxi was hit by a regular automobile. The ICE vehicle drove away. The driver and passengers of the EV were burned to death within seconds. This happened in China. The standards compliance there is not up to the level they are in other places. I would feel very safe in a Tesla or other highly rated car in the US because I know that the standards are real and enforced.
By the way, in our labor day parade there were two Tesla S cars, a Tesla Roadster and a Fisker. Boy, they were quiet.
Interesting comparisons, Chuck. Looks like EVs and hybrids are not inherently safer because they are EVs or hybrids. It also seems to say that Tesla scored high not because it's an EV, but because it's a Tesla.
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