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Tesla claims its electric Model S starred in crash tests of federal agency

San Jose Mercury News reporter Dana Hull takes a spin in a Tesla Model S sedan along Grizzly Peak Boulevard in Oakland, California, April 11, 2013. Tesla Motors loaned the car to Hull for a few days to test-drive. Photo: Jane Tyska/Contra Costa Times/MCT

Tesla Motors already claims to have the electric car that can go the longest between charges. Now it is claiming to be the safest car on the road.

The electric car company said that “the Model S set a new record" during recent testing by the government. The car was the least likely to have people inside it hurt during a crash.

Officials at the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) didn’t return calls seeking confirmation of Tesla’s claim, but the Model S did win a five-star safety rating from the NHTSA. The ranking is reserved for the vehicles that do best in the agency’s crash-test program.

As a government agency, the NHTSA sets and enforces vehicle safety standards.

Model S Sees Stars

NHTSA does not release scores above 5-stars to the public, Tesla said. But car makers receive an overall Vehicle Safety Score that can show a rating above five, the automaker said. “The Model S achieved a new combined record of 5.4 stars,” Tesla said.

Cars fueled by gasoline typically have a big engine in front. The Model S does not. That creates a safer design, Tesla said. The front of the Model S has “a much longer crumple zone to absorb a high-speed impact,” the company said.

The "the crumple zone" is designed to be smashed and absorb some of the energy in a crash.  “The longer the crumple zone, the more time there is to slow down occupants" and prevent injuries, Tesla said.

Tesla also tucks its large, heavy battery pack below the floor of the car. That helped in another test. It kept the car from rolling over, Tesla said. During testing, “the Model S refused to turn over via the normal methods," Tesla said. "Special means were needed" to cause a rollover.

The Model S is getting good reviews from a variety of sources. In May, Consumer Reports said it was one of the best cars the influential magazine has ever tested.

The Car Is Pricey

Tesla is trying to become the first successful brand new U.S. car maker in nearly a century. The company was co-founded by Elon Musk. The technology businessman recently unveiled Hyperloop, a high-speed transit system designed to send passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in a half hour. They'd sit in capsules that would be shot, like air hockey pucks, through a steel tube.

Hyperloop exists only on paper right now. The concept was drawn up by a dozen engineers from Tesla and SpaceX, another company which Musk started.

Back on the highways, Tesla started selling the Model S about a year ago.

A Model S costs $63,570. But the price jumps to well above $100,000 if a customer springs for a larger battery. The bigger batter extends the vehicle’s range to over 200 miles on one charge, more than double that of other electric cars.

Company Collects Credits

The automaker earned its first profit in the first three months of this year. The maker of high-end electric cars earned more money than had been expected by investors and analysts on Wall Street in the second three months.

Tesla collects special credits from California as well as other environmental credits every time it sells a Model S. The credits have helped its profits. It has sold about $150 million of such credits to other automakers so far this year.

Tesla expects to sell about 20,000 of its Model S cars in 2013.

Tesla builds the Model S at a factory in Fremont, Calif., where it plans to also make an electric SUV built on the same platform as the Model S and sharing much of its technology. The company will start producing the SUV next year.

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