New Tesla Fire Manifests in Belgium

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

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]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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5 of 26 comments
  • Asdf Asdf on Jun 04, 2019

    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.

  • Dukeisduke Dukeisduke on Jun 04, 2019

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

    • Bullnuke Bullnuke on Jun 04, 2019

      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.

  • Wjtinfwb I'd like to see a Ford/Mazda relationship restarted. Both companies have some car guys keeping the flame alive and could develop a sports car slightly bigger than a Miata and pick and choose from each other's parts bin to put together some attractive powertrain combo's. Even a Mazda 3 AWD with the 300HP EcoBoost 2.3L, manual and AWD from the Focus RS would be welcome. Even better, a factory Miata V8 with the 480 HP Coyote (i know it wont fit...) and a manual gearbox. And how about a CX-5 with a 2.7L EcoBoost V6 with AWD and an chassis tuned for sport. Lots of possibilities.
  • Blueice Patient 28, sorry, but it is Oktoberfest. Bring a kegof Kraut beer and we will 50% you.
  • Bd2 Probably Toyota, Hyundai is killing them these days.
  • Bd2 Japan is evil, stop buying their vehicles. I hope TTAC has a holiday for PEARL HARBOR.
  • Wolfwagen If Isuzu could update this truck and keep the cost between $25K - $30K they would sell like ice pops on dollar day in a heat wave.