John Batchelor, host of the John Batchelor radio show, talks to Lou Ann Hammond, CEO, www.drivingthenation.com about Tesla’s non-existent, over-exaggerated 5.4 star rating and selling in China.

According to Reuters, Zhan Baosheng, the businessman in the southern China province of Guangdong, owns the “Tesla” trademark in China, according to his agent who processed the papers to register the name with the State Administration for Industry and Commerce. In addition to the trademark issue, Tesla has yet to complete product registration with Chinese authorities enabling the sale of the Model S, although one of the sources said Tesla was almost through with the process.

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, can’t help himself. Musk pushes the envelope so many times with so many groups. Some of that pushing can be a good thing, sometimes it makes people think. Sometimes that pushing can bring you a reprimand from organizations you don’t want to be reprimanded by. This time it is the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration.

In emails I received from NHTSA today after Tesla said they got a 5.4 star rating from NHTSA, and from the tone you can tell they are not amused with Mr. Musk’s antics,

“The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is committed to improving safety on the nation’s roadways and helping motorists make informed decisions about new or used vehicles they are considering. The agency’s 5-Star Safety Ratings program is designed to provide consumers with information about the crash protection and rollover safety of new vehicles beyond what is required by Federal standards. One star is the lowest rating; five stars is the highest. More stars equal safer cars. The driving public should know that NHTSA does not rate vehicles beyond 5 stars and does not rank or order vehicles within the star rating categories. The Model S is a 5 star rated car and shares that distinction with ten other vehicles that have achieved the same rating under the enhanced program (implemented beginning with 2011 model year vehicles). In addition, the agency has well established guidelines in place and we expect manufacturers and advertising agencies to follow those guidelines to ensure that accurate and consistent information is conveyed to the public.”

“NHTSA does not rate vehicles beyond 5 stars under its 5-Star Safety Ratings program. Our rating system is based on a computation of probability of injury risk from frontal, side barrier, side poll and rollover resistance tests. The Tesla model achieved a 5 star rating based on our criteria.”

“You can look up specific vehicles you are interested in here to determine if they have been tested or what their 5-star rating is – http://www.safercar.gov/Vehicle+Shoppers/5-Star+Safety+Ratings/2011-Newer+Vehicles.”

More important than whether you can survive a crash is whether you will get into a crash. Cars, such as Mercedes S-Class, Audi A8 and BMW 7-series have forward collision avoidance sensors with automatic braking, a feature Tesla doesn’t offer. According to an email from Mercedes-Benz, “The new S-Class has numerous new active safety features, highlights include semi-autonomous driving with DISTRONIC PLUS with Steering Assist, and PRE-SAFE with Cross Traffic Assist and Pedestrian Recognition.” What does this mean? It means that the technology on the Mercedes-Benz S-Class will help you avoid an accident.

By email Audi explained why they don’t have more $100,000 cars rated by the EPA, “For the more expensive models, the OEM generally has to pay for the car to be crashed in the NHTSA testing. Some OEMs do pay to have it done. Whatever Audi models the government lists on safercar.gov is what has been tested. The models not listed only means we haven’t paid to go through the process, not that the cars are unsafe or we are uncertain about the outcome.”

This is not Musk’s first foray into making waves in the car industry. You will remember within the last year that Musk did some creative accounting to show the world how cheap it was to lease a Tesla S. Or how about Tesla deciding that, against all state franchise laws, that he didn’t have to sell his cars through dealerships. That is still being contested in different states.

Then there’s the super-charging stations that only Tesla vehicles can use. Ford, Chevy, Cadillac and BMWi dealers are all putting solar panels on participating dealerships. If you own an electric vehicle you can charge at any of those dealerships for free. Many of these car dealers have been there for a long time, they have been amortized and paid off. Putting solar panels on the dealerships will reduce their footprint and the footprint of an electric vehicle that charges there. To create stand-alone super charging units that have only one function, and that function is limited to one car, is carbon intensive.

There is also the question of Musk being founder, or co-founder of Tesla. When I drove the Tesla roadster at Pebble Beach in it Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning that were co-founders. Elon Musk was known as an the investor from Paypal.

The Mercury news tells a story in 2009 that Eberhard sued Tesla and Musk in San Mateo County Superior Court earlier this year, charging that Musk and the company had libeled and slandered him. Eberhard also sought to recover a severance package the company allegedly withheld from him, and to have the court declare him one of only two co-founders of Tesla, along with Marc Tarpenning.

Musk pushes the envelope, he makes people think. He’s a smart guy, having co-founded PayPal, become CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, he has degrees in economics and physics. But he has also received around half a billion dollars from the federal government, which he paid back early, he has received California credits from other car dealers that didn’t meet the zero emission vehicle requirements by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and had to buy them from Tesla.

Elon Musk doesn’t have to over-exaggerate Tesla. It’s a cool company with great cars and it makes people think everytime Musk does something. Nuff said.


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