What Makes a Tesla So Safe?

From autopilot technology to air filtration, and dual motors to enhanced radar data, Tesla is paving the way in automotive safety

17 May 2017

Millennials swarmed to the Tesla Model 3 when it was announced last year—putting down hefty deposits on a US $35,000 car they hadn’t even seen. Like its older and more pricey siblings—the Models S (starting at $69,500) and X (starting at $95,000)— the Model 3 seems destined to be a revolutionary model, but one perhaps that more directly appeals to the Millennial generation. Millennials prefer to spend their money with innovative companies, The Deloitte Millennial Survey recently reported, and Tesla certainly fits the bill.

Catering specifically to this digital-native generation, Tesla vehicles have no old-fashioned knobs for radio or temperature control, and no gauges in the dash. Rather, all such amenities operate digitally via a device that resembles a smartphone. Millennial engineers have spent the majority of their lives hyperconnected: to the Internet, mobile devices, and smartphones. It only makes sense they want to be connected to their cars as well.

Gadgetry and coolness aside, one of the top reasons a person buys any particular car is because of its safety features. While other car makers may struggle to offer innovation, Tesla packs in features that aren’t required by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. For example, Tesla’s Autopilot Technology lets the car take over controls in order to prevent accidents; also, the new air filtration system—the bioweapon Defense Mode—renders pollutants virtually undetectable in minutes and filters air outside the vehicle. In addition, Tesla’s Model S has two motors, one in the front and one in the rear, allowing it to digitally control torque to the front and rear wheels to give the car top-notch traction control. That's just a sampling of Tesla's innovations, a far cry from your typical “five-point harness” types of safety features.

Such innovation and unique attention to what car owners want is appealing particularly to many young engineers, who by nature want to push the boundaries and design new and exciting products to benefit people and the environment. Engineers of the millennial generation grew up being tech consultants to their families, so they are therefore much more self-confident and assertive than earlier generations and know exactly what they want from the products they buy.

Morgan Stanley’s Tesla analyst Adam Jonas predicts that the vehicle’s safety could be an underrated feature that will give the vehicle a competitive edge. In a note to clients, he said:

“We think the Model 3 will feature hardware and software that provide a level of active safety that could significantly lead all other cars on sale today and could, if the company achieves its goal, be an order of magnitude (i.e. 10x) safer than the average car on the road.”

Safety features are the top reason any particular car, regardless of brand, is purchased among all age groups. But for Tesla, the self-driving capabilities are the centerpiece of its safety offerings. All Tesla vehicles—including Model 3—have (or will have) the hardware needed for full self-driving capability “at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver,” according to the manufacturer. According to Tesla, the self-driving ability includes an engineer’s treasure trove of technology, including:

  • Twelve updated ultrasonic sensors, which detect hard and soft objects at nearly twice the distance of the prior system,
  • Eight surround cameras, which provide 360-degree visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range,
  • A forward-facing radar with enhanced processing provides additional data, which can see through heavy rain, fog, dust and, yes, to the car ahead.

All of the collected data is then processed by an on-board computer that no human’s brain could make sense of as quickly or as accurately. So while the driver is human, the technology offers a superhuman assist.

Times are changing. No longer can an automotive company focus on function over form, claiming it puts safety, rather than the frivolity of design, first. However, both are important to the millennial driver. They understand intuitively that pitting safety against beauty is offering a false choice. In addition, millennial engineers know what is technically capable, and are willing to push the boundaries to get it delivered on their terms.

Content sponsored by Digi-Key Electronics

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