The angular design of Tesla's Cybertruck has safety experts concerned the electric pickup truck's stiff stainless-steel exoskeleton could hurt pedestrians and cyclists and damage other vehicles on roads.
Reuters spoke to six safety professors and officials who viewed videos of crash tests conducted by Tesla on its first new vehicle in nearly four years and shown during a webcast delivery event last week.
Crash test videos that Tesla live-streamed at a Nov. 30 event were heavily discussed on social media. Experts who spoke to Reuters said they needed crash-test data to reach firm conclusions about the safety.
"The big problem there is if they really make the skin of the vehicle very stiff by using thick stainless steel, then when people hit their heads on it, it's going to cause more damage to them," said Adrian Lund, the former president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), whose vehicle crash tests are an industry standard.
Tesla touted the structures of the truck that absorb impact during the crash. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a social media post on Tuesday that he was "highly confident" Cybertruck will be safer than other trucks for occupants and pedestrians.
Tesla, whose shares were slightly up at $243.64 in Friday afternoon trading, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on concerns raised by safety experts.
The vehicle designed with flat planes and long, linear edges is visually distinct. It is the first car with a stainless-steel exterior since the launch of the DeLorean car which was featured in the 1985 movie "Back to the Future." The material has even broken the stamping machine that forms the panels, Musk said, touting the vehicle's toughness.
During the launch event at the factory in Austin, Texas, Tesla said cold-rolled, stainless body panels are designed to absorb impact during a crash.
The front and rear structures have energy-absorbing ribs that help dissipate energy, and during a side impact the skin of the door carried a majority of the crash load, it said.
George Washington University auto safety professor Samer Hamdar raised concerns about limited "crumple zones," but added that other features might make up for that. Crumple zones are parts of the car that deform in a crash in a way to more safely absorb the energy of an impact.
"There might be a possibility of shock-absorbent mechanism that will limit the fact that you have a limited crumple zone," Hamdar said.
Starting at $60,990, Cybertruck will not be a high-volume vehicle like Tesla's Model Y, but Musk has said Tesla was likely to reach a production rate of roughly 250,000 Cybertrucks a year in 2025.
'Red Flags' In A Crash
Much of the concern was focused on those outside the Cybertruck. "If you have an argument with another car, you will win," Musk said.
David Friedman, the former acting head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, described the effect for the loser of the crash: "If you're in a crash with another vehicle that has a crumple zone and your car is more stiff, then their cars are going to crush and yours is resistant," he said.
Julia Griswold, director of the University of California, Berkeley's Safe Transportation Research and Education Center, said she was "alarmed" by the crash test videos Tesla posted. She said the heavy weight of the trucks and their high acceleration "raise red flags for non-occupants."
Tesla has not said whether it will sell Cybertrucks in Europe, but its chief engineer this month told motoring publication TopGear that EU safety rules aimed at protecting pedestrians by limiting external protrusions could make it tough to sell there.
"We hope Tesla don't bring this vehicle to Europe. A vehicle of this size, power and huge weight will be lethal to pedestrians and cyclists in a collision," the Brussels-based nonprofit European Transport Safety Council said in a statement.
US regulators rely on vehicle makers to self-test and certify their adherence to safety standards. Musk said in a recent interview with auto consultant Sandy Munro that the Cybertruck had passed regulatory review. The first dozen or so trucks were released to buyers last week.
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