By on May 16, 2019

tesla model-s-rear, image: Tesla Motors

The spontaneous combustion of several Tesla vehicles in recent weeks has forced the automaker into action, issuing over-the-air updates in an attempt to snuff out the problem… and smother another round of bad PR. To its credit, Tesla seems to be taking the matter seriously.

The update covers the company’s Model S and X vehicles, regardless of country. Meanwhile, investigations continue into the cause of recent blazes in Shanghai, San Francisco, and Hong Kong.

In a statement reported by the BBC, Tesla said it issued the update “out of an abundance of caution.”

“As we continue our investigation of the root cause… we are revising charge and thermal management settings on Model S and Model X vehicles via an over-the-air software update that will begin rolling out today, to help further protect the battery and improve battery longevity.”

While the company said it doesn’t know the exact cause of the fires, “thermal runaway” is a known danger with lithium-ion batteries. The unstoppable chain reaction, in which temperatures soar within a fraction of a second, has even brought down airliners.

In late April, security camera footage showed a parked Model S smoking, then exploding, in a Shanghai parking garage, incinerating a row of high-end German sedans. Earlier this month, a Model S spontaneously caught fire in a private San Francisco garage. And, this past Sunday, a parked Model S caught fire in the parking lot of a Hong Kong shopping mall. According to media reports, the sedan, which had been parked for half an hour, took 45 minutes to extinguish.

The automaker has sent a team of investigators to probe the Hong Kong incident.

While Tesla claims its battery packs are designed to vent smoke and heat away from the cabin in the event of a fire, one look at the Shanghai video would give any aspiring owner cold feet. After several seconds of visible smoke towards the rear of the car, the thing goes up like a torch.

A company spokesperson told CNN “we believe the right number of incidents to aspire to is zero.”

[Image: Tesla]

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34 Comments on “Feeling the Burn: Tesla Issues Software Update Following Rash of Fires...”


  • avatar

    “Tesla said it issued the update “out of an abundance of caution.””

    I don’t think when things have already been on fire that it’s still considered caution.

  • avatar
    vvk

    > A company spokesperson told CNN “we believe the right number of incidents to aspire to is zero.”

    Let me complete the quote for our anti-american author:

    “We currently have well over half a million vehicles on the road, which is more than double the number that we had at the beginning of last year, and Tesla’s team of battery experts uses that data to thoroughly investigate incidents that occur and understand the root cause. Although fire incidents involving Tesla vehicles are already extremely rare and our cars are 10 times less likely to experience a fire than a gas car, we believe the right number of incidents to aspire to is zero.”

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      All the fire cars I have dealt with during my career have been for electrical issues. Usually it ends up being water ingress somewhere it’s not supposed to, and it shorts an electrical component out. I don’t see how a Tesla would be immune to this, especially with their stellar build quality. Also, when a gas car burns, it’s pretty mundane. When a lithium ion battery runs away, it is very dramatic.

      • 0 avatar
        TimK

        Well, my brother’s aging Honda Accord caught fire because a dolt at Jiffy Lube forgot to put the gasket on the oil filter. Leaking oil soaked a wire harness, somehow ignited on a hot engine part and then the wire bundle burned like a candle wick. Totally trashed an otherwise decent car. No explosions or fireworks a la Tesla.

      • 0 avatar
        vvk

        I have seen plenty of extremely dramatic gasoline car fires. Far more of them than EV fires. My sister’s in-laws’ RAV4 burned to the ground. They barely escaped with their lives. That was pretty dramatic.

        • 0 avatar
          MBella

          You’re being dramatic. An EV is way more rapid than a gas car
          The RAV 4 might have burned to the ground, but I don’t know how you can compare it to an EV fire. Once the battery runs away, hope that there’s nothing a 25ft radius. EVs are also bursting into flames during accidents just like in Hollywood movies. To compare as gas cars fire to an EV is like comparing a Zippo and an acetylene torch.

          • 0 avatar
            EGSE

            For destructive potential they can punch way above their weight. An item of intel equipment was returned to a company I worked for. It used a lithium thionyl chloride cell to keep the microcontroller memory alive between power-ups. The processor card was next to the side rail which was an aluminum extrusion thick enough to support the unit. The cell failed for reasons unknown (the damage was too extensive), and when it did it melted through the side rail while incinerating all the circuitry around it. It did look as if an acetylene torch was used. The controller card was redesigned to a safer chemistry and all units were updated for free. Lady Luck was with us as we learned during the swap-out that a few were used in airborne applications; fortunately that one was not.

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          If you are scared of fire, diesel is the correct answer. I had a hunk of molten metal I the form of an improvised shape charge blow through my fuel tank at mach oh my freaking God and once it leaked down to the bottom of the hole, drove it back to the Fob. EV or Gas? Yeah I’m going to need a wrecker.

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      Tesla vehicles may be less likely to catch on fire, but when they do, it’s pretty much *always* catastrophic, and usually far more rapid than a gasoline car catching on fire. (Nearly all car fires start in the engine compartment, leaving plenty of time before it gets to the gas tank.)

      Certainly an ICE car doesn’t catch on fire *again* after being hauled to the junkyard. And they generally catch on *fire*, not *explode*.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    Perhaps they should add a warning light and message to the dashboard: “car is on fire and may explode, please exit the vehicle at nearest opportunity”.

    Or perhaps they could add a fire extinguisher system that includes a 500 gallon tank to douse the flaming battery with cold clear water. They could call it the Tesla Autodouser.

    Or they could add a new product line of Tesla fireproof driving suites.

    • 0 avatar
      vvk

      Given that gasoline cars are an order of magnitude more likely to burn, Toyota should take the lead of this one. You know, as the largest gasoline vehicle manufacturer in the world.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        Well, there’s this thing about selling millions upon millions of gasoline vehicles and a small (very VERY small) percentage of them catching on fire. The odds of your random modern gasoline-powered vehicle catching on fire are, well, we need Mr. Spock to be precise, but suffice it to say that it’s not remotely likely (DESPITE common knowledge that gasoline is, umm, flammable). Given how few Teslas are on the road compared to all gasoline vehicles, your chances are notably higher.

        But, deflect as you must, per Lord Elon’s instructions. And if all else fails, call him a pedophile with no justification whatsoever.

        • 0 avatar

          Just like people who think that a company that has billions in revenue is automatically rolling in profits. It isn’t the amount of a certain thing, it’s the percentage of it to the whole. Some people never get that concept.

          There was recently a strike in the North East against grocery store chain Stop + Shop. Because their parent company had billions in sales the workers demanded a piece of the pie and many couldn’t understand what profit means.

          The same thing is going to happen if/when Macy’s employees strike.
          They do about 25-28 billion a year, they must be rolling dough.

          • 0 avatar
            Proud2BUnion

            So true! If a company is not “profitable” enough for the shareholders, it MUST be because of those greedy, rank & file hourly workers! Do they not realize it’s 2019, and they should have no expectation of fair wages, healthcare, or any sort of retirement benefits?

          • 0 avatar
            chris724

            @Proud2BUnion-

            You sound like an entitled bum. I would never hire you.

          • 0 avatar

            @chris724

            And you sound like someone who hasn’t read the rules for commenting. Personal insults are not allowed. This is a warning.

        • 0 avatar
          vvk

          > The odds of your random modern gasoline-powered vehicle catching on fire are, well, we need
          > Mr. Spock to be precise, but suffice it to say that it’s not remotely likely

          What I am trying to tell you is that the odds of an EV catching on fire are an order of magnitude more “not remotely likely.”

          • 0 avatar
            SPPPP

            If you exclude Hyundais, Kias, and vehicles over 10 years old, I would guess the rate for ICE vehicles would look a lot better.

      • 0 avatar
        dukeisduke

        Yeah, because I see tons of ICE cars on fire, every day. Not.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    My new-to-me 2005 Honda Element is noisier and handles worse than I’m used to. Any chance of an over-the-air software update that will correct this?

    Wait, I live in the real world, and my vehicle isnt a glitchy computer with four wheels. Never mind.

    (Sarcasm aside, yes I’m happy with the Element, despite the increased noise and the clumsy handling. It is what it is.)

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Tesla Death Watch article?

  • avatar
    vvk

    https://abc7ny.com/17-cars-catch-fire-at-newark-airport-parking-garage/5114223/
    https://abc11.com/automotive/bmw-mystery-some-owners-claim-parked-car-caught-fire/1976576/
    https://www.abcactionnews.com/money/consumer/taking-action-for-you/car-catches-fire-in-garage-and-nearly-burns-down-family-home

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    I can’t wait for the first S3XY recall – lol.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    I’m not a Musk apologist by any means, but…

    Laughs in open recall on F150 due to risk of fire in an accident that I have now been waiting 5 months for parts for.

    As a lifelong Ford guy, Tesla is amateur hour here

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      Didn’t Ford figure out how to make cruise control buttons that turned their steering wheels into fire hazards?

      It does tick me off that I can’t have a gas grill on my balcony, but someone can charge a Tesla in their condo’s garage and subject their neighbors to the full Dresden.

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