Tesla Model 3 gets penalized in Europe despite top scores in vehicle assistance and safety

(Credit: Thatcham Research/YouTube)

In collaboration with Thatcham Research, the Euro NCAP has launched the world’s first Assisted Driving Grading system, a new set of metrics that are specifically designed to evaluate the driver-assist systems of cars available on the market today. For its first batch of vehicles, the firms evaluated 10 cars, from premium SUVs like the Mercedes-Benz GLE to affordable hatchbacks like the Renault Clio to all-electric vehicles like the Tesla Model 3. 

As noted by Thatcham Research Director of Insurance Research Matthew Avery in a video outlining the results of the Assisted Driving Grading system’s first tests, vehicles would be graded on three metrics: the level of vehicle assistance that they provide, the level of driver engagement that they offer, and the effectiveness of their safety backup systems. The results of these tests, especially on the Tesla Model 3’s part, were rather peculiar, to say the least. 

Out of 10 vehicles that were evaluated, the Tesla Model 3 ranked 6th with a “Moderate” grade, falling behind the Mercedes-Benz GLE, BMW 3-Series, and Audi Q8, which were graded as “Very Good,” and the Ford Kuga, which received a “Good” rating. This was despite the Tesla Model 3 receiving the top scores in the “Vehicle Assistance” and “Safety Backup” metrics. 

(Credit: Thatcham Research)

The study, for example, dubbed the Model 3 as outstanding in terms of steering assistance, with the vehicle steering itself exceptionally well through an S-shaped curve at speeds of 80, 100, and 120 km/h. Tesla’s lane change systems were also satisfactory, despite the system’s limitations in Europe. Distance control was dominated by the Model 3 as well, with the evaluators stating that Tesla’s adaptive cruise control featured a “high level of technical maturity.” From a score of 100, Tesla’s vehicle assistance received a score of 87, the highest among the cars tested. 

The Model 3’s safety backup systems were also a league above its competition. As noted in a post from the Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil-Club e.V. (ADAC), Tesla demonstrated its strengths with the Model 3’s collision avoidance systems. The all-electric sedan earned a perfect score in the firms’ tests, outperforming its premium German competition. Overall, the Model 3 received an impressive score of 95 in the Assisted Driving Grading system’s “Safety Backup” metric. 

Considering these scores, one might wonder why the Model 3 ended up ranked 6th among the 10 vehicles tested by the Euro NCAP and Thatcham Research. As it turned out, this was because of the Model 3’s poor scores in the “Driver Engagement” metric, where the vehicle only earned a score of 35 out of 100. So poor was the Model 3’s scores in this metric that it was ranked last among the 10 vehicles that were evaluated. 

(Credit: ADAS)

A look at the reasons behind the Model 3’s poor scores in “Driver Engagement” includes a number of interesting insights from Thatcham Research and the Euro NCAP. When testing the vehicles’ steering override functions, for example, the evaluators stated that the Model 3 resisted steering overrides from its driver. These issues were explained in the ADAC’s post. 

“Should the driver make a steering movement in order to avoid an object or a pothole in the roadway, the steering assistant should allow this without resistance. In the Tesla Model 3, for example, this is not the case. Apparently, Tesla trusts the system more than its driver. The necessary cooperative assistance is not given. Instead, the Tesla system prevents its driver from attempting to intervene – it mustn’t be,” the ADAC remarked in its post. 

Even more interesting is that part of the Model 3’s poor “Driver Engagement” scores was due to the term “Autopilot,” which Tesla uses to describe its driver-assist suite. The evaluators argued that the term “Autopilot” was misleading and irresponsible on Tesla’s part, and this was heavily taken against the Model 3’s rankings in the Assisted Driving Grading system. 

(Credit: ADAS)

“When it comes to the first test criterion – consumer information – the Tesla Model 3 in particular fails. The assistance systems are referred to as “Autopilot” in the operating instructions for the Model 3 as well as in the sales brochures and in marketing. However, the term suggests capabilities that the system does not have in sufficient measure. It tempts the driver to rely on the capabilities of the system – which is currently not allowed by the legislature anyway. Due to its good quick-start operating aid, the Tesla Model 3 still receives 10 points,” the evaluators noted. 

Ultimately, these complaints about Autopilot’s branding ended up pulling down the Model 3’s scores to the point where the all-electric sedan was ranked below the Ford Kuga. Thatcham Research Director of Insurance Research Matthew Avery explained this in a video released about the evaluation. “The Tesla Model 3 was the best for safety backup and vehicle assistance but lost ground for misleading consumers about the capability of its Autopilot system and actively discouraging drivers from engaging when behind the wheel,” Avery said. 

As noted by Avery, it is pertinent for vehicles to exhibit a balance to score very well in the Assisted Driving Grading system. This was not achieved by the Model 3 despite its industry-leading backup safety systems and actual vehicle assistance tech. ADAC explained it best when outlining why the Tesla Model 3 lost to four other vehicles despite being equipped with what is noticeably the most advanced driver-assist system. 

“When analyzing the test results, it is noticeable that the Tesla Model 3 has the most advanced assistance systems. With 95 points for emergency assistance (Safety Backup) and 91 points for technical assistance, it doesn’t beat the Mercedes GLE by far, but at least 11 points… Because Euro NCAP removes the many points in the area of driver support from the Tesla, because on the one hand it does not sufficiently comply with the driver’s request for a steering correction. On the other hand, because Tesla is irresponsible about the term autopilot – an even more serious reason. With only 36 points from the test area driver integration, the Tesla falls back to sixth place in the final bill,” the ADAC noted. 

Thatcham Research’s overall findings could be viewed in the video below. 

Tesla Model 3 gets penalized in Europe despite top scores in vehicle assistance and safety
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