By on October 25, 2013


In an e-mailed statement, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that it has decided against launching a formal investigation into the Washington state fire early this month involving a Tesla Model S. The electric car ran over some metal debris that punctured the front battery pack, sparking the fire. NHTSA said that it found no evidence of violations of federal motor vehicle safety standard or that the fire resulted from a vehicle defect. While the agency did not conduct an on-scene investigation of the Oct. 1 fire due to the partial shutdown of the federal government during the congressional budget impasse, after consulting with Tesla, regulators decided that no investigation was needed. Just a few days ago, on Oct. 22,  NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said the agency was “gathering data” on the fire, which resulted in a complete writeoff of the Model S.

A Tesla spokesperson said that the carmaker had no immediate response to NHTSA’s decision. In an October 5th blog post, CEO Elon Musk insisted that the Model S was safe, saying that the fire resulted from an unusual crash that would have resulted in a fire in a gasoline car as well.

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6 Comments on “Federal Regulators Will Not Investigate Tesla Model S Fire...”

  • avatar

    I have a friend who ran over a piece of metal in the road and ripped open the gas tank of a car. Made for a nice fire too. The Feds did not investigate that one either. Nothing to see here folks.

  • avatar

    Exactly, move along, Tesla is “green” so no harm done.

  • avatar
    doctor olds

    This really doesn’t look good. A very unappealing failure mode. Still might be fixable with some sort of a skid plate, or they may be on the money in their defense. It is an extremely rare and unusual event that will never occur again and thus requires no action.

    After all, they have what, a couple of thousand of them out on the road?

    There are a couple hundred million gasoline cars on the road. A fuel tank fire due to running over road debris is virtually unheard of, even with tens of millions with plastic fuel tanks.

    One fail out of this population due to running over debris in the road is just very unappealing. Glad I will not have to talk to the regulators about this one for them.

    They had to jam a steel bar through the Volt’s battery pack and turn it upside down for days to get a fire. Some of the press hammered on the issue like it was a real world problem.

    Tesla now actually bursts into flames after just driving over debris in the road????

    It will interesting to see how it plays out. I perceive Tesla as the beloved of the left and media and won’t be surprised if they get a pass from most media.

    • 0 avatar

      First off, there IS a skid plate on the bottom of the car. 1/4 inch thick and covering the entire battery pack. The object the Model S ran over pierced that plate. In a normal car, it could very well have gone through the floorboard and into the passenger compartment.

      There are also over 20,000 of them on the road, not “a couple thousand”. Of these, there have been some pretty bad crashes and this is the only one that has ever caught fire for any reason.

      There are over 500 vehicle fires per day in the US and the feds don’t jump all over all of them. No reason that they should jump on this one either.

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        I was not arguing for an investigation by NHTSA. That should be done by Tesla at this stage. Even with 20,000 vehicle sales, Tesla has very low exposure. The daily fires you cite are on 200 million cars, a fair number of them being driven more than a typical Tesla.

        I’d like to take you through a thought experiment. If we assume one incident of “fire for running over road debris” with 16 months maximum exposure for all 20,000 Teslas (a gross exaggeration of reality considering they were not all sold the first day) we could define the rate as 1 incident per 320,000(16* 20,000) vehicle months. (A more arithmetically correct estimate would be less than half that exposure, but I am helping Tesla’s case.)
        Applying that rate to America’s 200 million vehicle fleet which gets 12 months exposure per year would mean 7,500 vehicle fires from road debris. It would be more accurate, given Tesla’s recent start up status to at least double that number of vehicle fires a year due to running over road debris. That seems likely to be an awful lot higher rate than I expect to be the real case for the entire fleet, though I don’t have that data.

        One incident can always be argued to be an anomaly. If there are more, it will be a problem for Tesla.

  • avatar

    $100 says that if it was a Chevy Volt or a now defunct Fisker. They would be all over it and it would be headlines in most newspapers and all over Fox News.

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