The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent a cease-and-desist letter to Tesla previous year for not complying with the agency's guidelines in its Model 3 safety assertions and subpoenaed the carmaker for information on several crashes, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday.
Essentially, it's one thing for Tesla to boast that the Model 3 offers drivers a low risk of injury, but it's misleading to boast that the Model 3 has the lowest probability of injury across all tested cars.
Based on the advanced architecture of Model S and Model X, which were previously found by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to have the lowest and second lowest probabilities of injury of all cars ever tested, we engineered Model 3 to be the safest auto ever built.
"This is not the first time that Tesla has disregarded the guidelines in a manner that may lead to consumer confusion and give Tesla an unfair market advantage", Bloomberg quoted NHTSA Chief Counsel Jonathan Morrison as saying in an October 17 letter addressed to Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk.
Joe Young, a media relations associate for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), demonstrates a front crash prevention test on a 2018 Tesla Model 3 at the IIHS-HLDI Vehicle Research Center in Ruckersville, Virginia, U.S., July 22, 2019.
The NHTSA has already said that it is not possible to say that the Tesla Model 3 with its 5-star ratings is safer than other similarly rated vehicles during a head-to-head collision.
What's more, the NHTSA said that because Tesla repeatedly failed to comply with communication guidelines on crash test results, the matter was also referred to the Bureau of Consumer Protection for possible "unfair and deceptive acts and practices".
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An FTC spokesman said only that "investigations are non-public, and we don't comment on ... the existence of an investigation".
Asked for comment on Wednesday, Tesla pointed to its response to the October letter, in which it said its claims were based on NHTSA's own data.
Tesla also has been criticized by safety groups for being unclear about the need for "hands-on" driving with its autonomous driving feature. "Tesla's statement is neither untrue nor misleading". In a vehicle-to-vehicle crash, the occupant of the heavier vehicle is less likely to be injured.
The NHTSA would have liked Tesla to stop there. Now, not only has Model 3 achieved a flawless 5-star safety rating in every category and sub-category, but NHTSA's tests also show that it has the lowest probability of injury of all cars the safety agency has ever tested. So to compare the frontal crash ratings of the two vehicles is "inappropriate".
Tesla didn't back down in its public statements last October.
A lawyer for Tesla says the company respectfully disagrees with the agency's claims.