Misleading Statements: NHTSA’s Concerns with Tesla’s Model 3 Safety Claims

Cohen Milstein

August 15, 2019

Cohen Milstein’s Complex Tort Litigation practice group publishes the bi-weekly Complex Tort Eblast addressing a number of consumer safety and product liability issues. 

The Tesla Model 3 may not be as safe as Tesla claims it to be.

As reported in the Observer and CNBC last week, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sent Tesla a cease-and-desist letter regarding “misleading statements” it made about the safety rating of Tesla’s Model 3.

The October 17, 2018 letter, obtained by Plainsite through a Freedom of Information Act request, revealed that NHTSA ordered “Tesla to stop advertising the Model 3 as the safest car tested by the agency.”

NHTSA specifically took issue with a blog post published by Tesla in October 2018 in which the company claimed that “not only has Model 3 achieved a perfect five-star safety rating in every category and sub-category” of the NHTSA Government 5-Star Safety Rating program, but NHTSA’s “tests also show that it has the lowest probability of injury of all cars the safety agency has ever tested.”

NHTSA said that Tesla’s use of terms such as “safest” and “perfect” are “misleading, because there are multiple cars rated five stars but the agency doesn’t rank vehicles under the same ratings,” according to the Observer.

Although NHTSA referred the matter to the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection for deceptive marketing, Tesla stands firm on its safety claims and has so far declined to remove the blog post, according to Automotive News.

Tesla has been linked to using misleading marketing characterizations of Tesla vehicles in past. In fact, according to Consumer Reports, consumer groups and safety advocates have taken issue with Tesla “for overhyping the capabilities of technologies, such as the Autopilot driver-assistance system and the company’s ‘Full Self Driving’ feature.”

According to the Observer, the NHTSA correspondence obtained by Plainsite also “included subpoena orders that the NHTSA sent to Tesla following several recent crash incidents, including a fatal crash in March of this year (2019) involving a Model 3 car operating on Autopilot.”

View the NHTSA letter and supporting documents.

Cohen Milstein’s Unsafe & Defective Products,  Catastrophic Injury & Wrongful Death, and Consumer Protection teams have successfully represented clients in numerous automotive-related cases against leading car and automotive parts manufacturers, including TakataFordToyotaCaterpillarPACCARGeneral Motors, Chrysler.

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