The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) has discovered, through their testing, what the safest car ever built is with regards to crashes: Tesla’s 2018 Model 3. It aced every single category and subcategory with five-star ratings, displacing its stablemates, the Model S and Model X. The three models now occupy the first, second and third positions on the list for having “the lowest probability of injury of all cars the safety agency has ever tested,” according to Tesla.
Here are three examples of how the Model 3’s design contributes greatly to the safety of occupants in different types of impacts:
What makes Model 3 safe? In addition to its near 50/50 weight distribution, Model 3 was also designed with an extremely low polar moment of inertia, which means that its heaviest components are located closer to the car’s center of gravity. Even though Model 3 has no engine, its performance is similar to what’s described as a “mid-engine car” due to its centered battery pack (the heaviest component of the car) and the fact that Model 3’s rear motor is placed slightly in front of the rear axle rather than behind it. Not only does this architecture add to the overall agility and handling of the car, it also improves the capability of stability control by minimizing rotational kinetic energy.
Like Model S and Model X, Model 3 benefits from its all-electric architecture and powertrain design, which consists of a strong, rigid passenger compartment, fortified battery pack, and overall low center of gravity. These safety fundamentals help to prevent intrusion into the cabin and battery modules, reduce rollover risk, and distribute crash forces systematically away from the cabin – all while providing the foundation for our superior front crumple zone that is optimized to absorb energy and crush more efficiently. Here, you can see how the orange internal combustion engine block is thrust towards the cabin during a frontal impact test:
In pole impact crashes, in which a narrow obstruction impacts the car between the main crash rails, energy-absorbing lateral and diagonal beam structures work to mitigate the impact. This includes a high-strength aluminum bumper beam, a sway bar placed low and forward in the front of the car, cross-members at the front of the steel subframe that are connected to the main crash rails, and additional diagonal beams in the subframe that distribute energy back to the crash rails when they aren’t directly impacted. An ultra-high strength martensitic steel beam is also attached to the top of the front suspension to further absorb crash energy from severe impacts, and the rear part of the subframe is shaped like a “U” and buckles down when impacted. These structures continue to be effective even when a front motor is added for Model 3 Dual-Motor All-Wheel Drive, due to the fact that the subframe is designed to pull the nose of the motor down and out of the way.
Model 3 also has the lowest intrusion from side pole impact of any vehicle tested by NHTSA. Unlike frontal crashes, there is little room for crumple zone in a side impact, so we patented our own pillar structures and side sills to absorb as much energy as possible in a very short distance. These structures work alongside the vehicle’s rigid body and fortified battery architecture to further reduce and prevent compartment intrusion. With less intrusion into the cabin, our side airbags have more space to inflate and cushion the occupants inside.