While range anxiety and affordability were the chief obstacles to widespread electric vehicle adoption, safety concerns always rank high for consumers when a new class emerges on the auto market. The situation came to a head when the popular Tesla Model S caught fire on three occasions in North America in 2013. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigators eventually found there was no defect trend in the Model S, which allowed the industry to breathe a sigh of relief.
As Tesla CEO Elon Musk stressed during those trying times, the incidence of fires in the Model S was so much lower than in gas-powered cars that NHTSA scrutiny would benefit the automaker and the perception of the EV industry as a whole. In fact, the NHTSA has awarded the Model S its top safety ratings on multiple occasions.
When it comes to automobiles with highest possible ratings for auto safety, Tesla has company in the electric vehicle industry. From the Top Safety Pick designation awarded by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) to the 5-star safety ratings from the NHTSA, there are concrete ways to measure the industry’s best. Here are six electric vehicles with the top auto safety ratings. Only plug-in vehicles with pure electric range were considered. All ratings come from the NHTSA’s Safercar.gov or the IIHS website.
6. Nissan Leaf
The 2013 Nissan Leaf had a major triumph when it nabbed the Top Safety Pick designation from the IIHS. A year later, the inclusion of more rigorous tests — namely, the small overlap front test — squeezed the 2014 Leaf off the list of top picks. In the NHTSA testing, the Leaf scored four out of five stars on frontal crash, side crash, and rollover testing. Cumulatively, the 2014 Leaf scored four of five stars while maintaining its crash worthiness that won it the Top Safety Pick honor in 2013.
5. Chevy Volt
Overall, the Chevy Volt (a plug-in EV with a range extending gas engine) nabbed a five-star safety rating in NHTSA crash tests, which is the highest cumulative score a vehicle can receive. Volts nailed a perfect five-of-five stars in side crash and rollover tests while scoring four out of five stars for frontal crash tests. Chevy’s EV also scored “Good” (the highest rating) on the four IIHS tests.
4. Ford Fusion Energi
Ford’s Fusion Energi plug-in gets 19 miles of pure electric range before switching to gas engines in a formula that has worked well for the automaker in 2014 sales. NHTSA tests on the Fusion Energi ended with a five-star overall vehicle score. Breaking down the individual tests, Fusion Energi hybrids scored a perfect five of five in frontal and side crash tests while taking four out of five stars in rollover tests. With one star docked overall, the Fusion Energi and Volt are essentially tied.
3. Tesla Model S
Tesla CEO Elon Musk had every right to trumpet the results of NHTSA crash tests on the Model S. The performance EV by Tesla scored five stars in frontal crash, side crash, and rollover tests, which naturally gave the Model S a perfect five stars overall. Only one other all-electric vehicle could make the same claim as the Model S, a fact that would allow anyone to call the Model S one of the safest cars on the road, electric or otherwise.
2. Ford Focus Electric
The Ford Focus Electric made its own claim to top safety claims by nailing each of the NHTSA tests with a perfect five stars. That performance guaranteed five stars overall and a spot on the top of the pack with Tesla. Until the latest models are tested, the Focus Electric and Model S are tops in the industry in NHTSA safety ratings. Though the electric version was not included, the standard Focus received a Top Safety Pick award from the IIHS.
1. Toyota Prius Plug-In
In terms of pure electric range, the Prius Plug-in is the worst performer on this list at just 11 miles before turning to gas engines for more power, but its 95 MPGe and 50 mpg in hybrid mode make that something of a moot point. In terms of safety, the Prius Plug-in received the Top Safety Pick+ designation from the IIHS.
That award is especially meaningful since no other electric car has yet to receive even a Top Safety Pick award for 2014 and 2015 models. The 2014 and 2015 Prius Plug-ins have not been given an overall rating by the NHTSA, though they did receive four out of five stars in the rollover tests. In its last ratiing, the 2013 Prius Plug-in scored four out of five stars overall with one star docked for rollover and frontal crash tests.