By on June 3, 2019

A Tesla Model S suffered a total meltdown after being connected to one of the company’s proprietary Supercharger stations in Antwerp, Belgium. While details are scant, local reports state the driver simply went to charge his automobile and returned to a burning wreck a short time later.

Considering the fire department had to totally submerge the ruined vehicle in a pool of water to ensure the car didn’t reignite, the odds of uncovering exactly what went wrong appear slim. But it wasn’t all that long ago that Tesla was pushing over-the-air updates to  mitigate a rash of fires that cropped up in the United States and Asia over the past few months. Surely, the manufacturer has some idea of what might have gone wrong. 

“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,” the company said last month.

Electrek, which translated the latest story from Het Laatste Nieuws, noted that the sudden increase in Tesla-associated fires represents a relatively small portion of the brand’s overall volume — adding that there have been many more fires related to gas-powered models over the last few months. Regardless of the ratio, lithium-ion battery vehicles present new challenges to fire departments as they require different tactics and ludicrous amounts of water. EV manufacturers also haven’t been terribly forthcoming about what causes battery fires, often because they don’t know the cause, either.

As a result, some companies are considering shifting toward nickel-metal hydride. However, while the newer materials are less susceptible to thermal runaway, they’re still being finagled for automotive applications and reactions are still possible and excessive heat can always ignite adjacent materials. Regardless of the components, overcharging a battery or overwhelming it with too high of a rate can still make it pop.

It’s unclear whether the Model S in Antwerp will help Tesla get closer to uncovering what’s causing the battery fires. The car was opened up for an investigation following a day-long bath on June 1st. The charging station, which melted during the blaze, will also be examined.

By our estimation, plus an investigation conducted by the NHTSA (with help from General Motors), lithium-ion battery systems seem to be about as safe to use as gas-powered cars in terms of overall fire risk. But a rash of well-publicized fires do nothing for the brand’s PR. As electric vehicles are still something of a novelty, every fire involving this type of vehicle is sure to garner media coverage. Not all will include contextual caveats to paint a broader picture. While not a death sentence in itself, Tesla’s run of bad press has done a number on its share price in 2019. For the company’s sake, one of the items on Tesla’s to-do list must be getting to the bottom of these fires.

[Images: HLN]

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26 Comments on “New Tesla Fire Manifests in Belgium...”


  • avatar
    55_wrench

    Humm

    Looks like a rotisserie restoration is in order…

    I’ll see myself out now….

  • avatar
    R Henry

    Teslas are not the only EVs our there running the lithium batteries. Have there been similar Nissan Leaf or Chevy Bolt BBQs?

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    “…the fire department had to totally submerge the ruined vehicle in a pool of water to ensure the car didn’t reignite”

    [Hoovie] “I bought the cheapest salvage Model S in Antwerp and it was a big mistake!”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    It’s worth pointing out that 100 mph post-crash fires should not be counted.

    As for NiMH, exactly which mfr is considering that? NiMH is pretty indestructible, but it’s very heavy and has poor energy density. You’ll find it in the regular Prius, but not the plug-in type. I’m not aware of any BEVs using NiMH.

    I do wonder if Tesla’s latest OTH updates are pushing the onboard charging systems and battery packs too far. The charger in the photo appears to just be a heat victim of the vehicle fire.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    How many less than 7 year old gasoline cars start on fire while being refueled or sitting turned off in a parking garage?

    On the other hand, Tesla can’t seem to paint or assemble their cars with any sort of precision or consistent quality, so why would their very complicated batteries be any better?

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      Plenty:

      https://abc7chicago.com/automotive/bmw-car-fires-more-fires-reported-in-parked-cars-while-engines-off/5121834/

      Still, it’s no excuse. Tesla needs to get to the bottom of this asap. Probably some sort of manufacturing defect in the packs that takes a while to manifest. Just a guess.

      I’ll be glad when we get to semi-solid or solid state batteries. Much safer than the current technology. One lab even took their semi-solid cells to a firing range and pumped a few rounds into them and they were still fine.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        Is there some reason to believe that shooting a battery simulates the conditions a battery exists in while a Tesla is sitting unattended and unplugged or when it is plugged in and charging? Those are the fire causes that people are concerned about. It is just a matter of time until a Tesla incinerates a structure with loss of human life.

    • 0 avatar
      EGSE

      Happened to a friend of mine. His F-150 lit up in the attached garage and his house burned while the family was enjoying a night out. The truck had a recall but the parts were back-ordered and he was waiting for the work to be performed. His homeowners insurance company sued Ford for the replacement value of the house and contents and they were made whole.

      • 0 avatar
        The_Guru

        Thats crazy. Had a buddy exact same thing happened to him. His brand new 2019 Silverado 2500 Duramax burnt to the ground taking his garage and house with it, along with their 2 year old car. GM had yet to recall it and are now having to pay for the mess. Sad stuff.

        • 0 avatar
          EGSE

          My friends truck was recalled for a problem with the cruise control which could lead to a fire even if not running. This was about 10 years ago and wasn’t related to the 2015-2019 recall.

          • 0 avatar
            Luke42

            My 1998 Ford Ranger was recalled for a “catch on fire while it sits in the driveway” problem back in the mid-2000s.

            When I got it back from th dealer after the recall, I noticed that several fuses had been spliced into the wiring harness under the hood.

            Seemed like an appropriate patch.

          • 0 avatar
            aja8888

            It was for the cruise control brake pressure switch on the master cylinder. The switch could fail and brake fluid would be exposed to hot wires, sometimes catching fire. the recall was one of Ford’s biggest with a few MILLION vehicles called. My 1998 F150 got the new fused circuit and switch.

  • avatar
    Garak

    Fire is one thing people are irrationally afraid of. Cars like the Ford Pinto or Tata Nano are remembered for their tendency to burn up, even if they weren’t really any more fire-prone than other vehicles of their class. Stuff like this is a real PR nightmare.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      Flying, too.

      • 0 avatar
        dukeisduke

        @Luke42 The issue with the Ranger (and lots of Fords) was the brake on/off, or BOO, switch, used by the cruise control. It was a pressure switch screwed into the master cylinder, that used fluid pressure to determine that the driver was stepping on the brakes. It was unfused, and used a membrane that broke down over time, causing a high amperage dead short, which was the reason for the fires. Ford added an adapter harness with an inline fuse to the circuit. The pre-repair workaround (to prevent fires) suggested by Ford was to unplug the connector at the switch, which also disabled the cruise control.

        My ’95 F-150 was under that recall. I got ahead out of it by replacing the BOO switch with an improved design Ford part (about $13 from the dealer). It used a different socket (of course), so the part also came with an adapter harness, to adapt the old style plug with the new style socket.

        When the recall fix finally came out, the dealer added the inline fused harness to the adapter harness, so mine really looked like a Rube Goldberg design.

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      “So Frankenstein and his monster are riding in their Ford Pinto, see, and Shere Khan the tiger is in the back seat, you get me? So anyway, they’re driving along and they start to smell smoke!”

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Insiders at the Nevada plant report massive scrappage rates on the battery cell lines. Very easy to believe their quality is all over the map leading to these fires. Fire cases are gruesome in the courtroom. Tort lawyers will make some serious dough on some of these, especially since Tesla themselves seem to present no good explanation.

  • avatar
    vvk

    May 2019. 3 dead, 4 injured after Virginia gas station explosion:

    https://www.cbsnews.com/news/virginia-gas-station-explosion-buena-vista-3-dead-today-2019-05-11/

    Feb 2019. 2 vehicles destroyed in gas station fire:

    https://www.cbs17.com/news/local-news/raw-video-2-vehicles-destroyed-in-gas-station-fire_20190226185552/1812209858

    “Each year, from 2014 to 2016, an estimated 171,500 highway vehicle fires occurred in the United States, resulting in an annual average of 345 deaths; 1,300 injuries; and $1.1 billion in property loss.”

    https://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/statistics/v19i2.pdf

  • avatar
    Asdf

    Yet another indication that Elon Musk is incompetent. Not only has he consistently failed to build competitive BEVs, as even after all this time they take forever to charge (it shouldn’t take longer to charge a BEV than to fill a gas tank), but now the BEVs catch fire as well. Musk should give up making BEVs and stick to something he knows, like setting up tents.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Lowering it into a dumpster? Fitting, since Tesla is now a dumpster fire.

    • 0 avatar
      bullnuke

      I’d be leery of putting the vehicle in that small a volume of water. Yes, the cooling / lack of oxygen would smother/prevent re-flash of combustible materials. But the chemical reaction of a large runaway battery, if it recommences energetically, could quickly generate enough heat to quickly boil that small amount of water in the small pockets of water around it and cause a steam explosion with enough energy to eject pieces of the vehicle at pretty good velocity.


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