The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has launched a formal investigation into the safety of the Tesla Model S vehicle after there was two reports of battery fires after hitting debris leading to undercarriage strikes in Washington and Tennessee. The Model S vehicles caught on fire after the debris pierced the battery compartment. One of the reasons why the Model S fires were the talk of the town is because of how it affected Tesla’s stock price. Tesla’s shares were trading at over $190 per share on October 1st and it dropped to around $125 after the fires. Before the NHTSA announcement today, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk announced that he is taking a few steps due to the fires, but he strongly believed in the safety of the vehicles.
The first step is that Tesla is rolling out an over-the-air update to the air suspension that will result in greater ground clearance at highway speeds. Musk said “To be clear, this is about reducing the chances of underbody impact damage, not improving safety.” Musk also asked federal safety regulators to conduct a full investigation as quickly as possible into the fires. Lastly, Tesla Motors is amending the warranty policy to cover damage due to a fire, even if the fire was due to driver error.
An NHTSA investigation can lead to a recall, but Musk said that the company is not planning to do one because he thinks it is not warranted. “We believe the evidence is clear that there is no safer car on the road than the Model S,” stated Musk in his blog post.
Musk said that the media reaction to the three fires was extreme. “Since the Model S went into production last year, there have been more than a quarter million gasoline car fires in the United States alone, resulting in over 400 deaths and approximately 1,200 serious injuries (extrapolating 2012 NFPA data). However, the three Model S fires, which only occurred after very high-speed collisions and caused no serious injuries or deaths, received more national headlines than all 250,000+ gasoline fires combined. The media coverage of Model S fires vs. gasoline car fires is disproportionate by several orders of magnitude, despite the latter actually being far more deadly,” wrote Musk.
The NHTSA said that in all 3 incidents, the Model S battery monitoring system provided escalating visible and audible warnings, which allow the drivers to execute a controlled stop and escape the vehicle before the battery emitted smoke and fire.
[Source: Tesla Blog]