Tesla Fires: What We Know, And What We Need To Find Out Page 2

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Third Tesla Model S catches fire after hitting road debris. Photo via Twitter user @NASHVILLAIN_

Third Tesla Model S catches fire after hitting road debris. Photo via Twitter user @NASHVILLAIN_

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Also yesterday, Clarence Ditlow, the executive director of advocacy group the Center for Auto Safety, said that the NHTSA "absolutely" has to investigate the Model S fires.

Ditlow suggested that it appears the Model S has "inadequate shielding" on its underside, calling road debris a "known hazard" to cars' undercarriages.


Of the three fires, the second seems by far the easiest to dispense with. Any car that incurs that much damage may possibly catch fire.

We note, as just one example, that two people were killed after their BMW caught fire when it hit a light pole and a palm tree at a high rate of speed in Riverside, California, on Wednesday morning.

There are roughly 150,000 vehicle fires reported every year in the U.S.--or about 17 every hour on average.

Those fires cause more than 200 deaths, more than 750 injuries, and more than half a billion dollars in direct property damage.

That's over a fleet of roughly 250,000,000 vehicles in the U.S., which collectively drive about 3 trillion miles per year.

We might also note that 0.1 percent of those car fires result in a death, whereas to date no one has been killed--or even seriously injured--in any incident involving a Tesla fire

After the first fire, Tesla CEO Elon Musk suggested that the rate of fires per mile for plug-in electric cars was actually lower than that for gasoline cars.

His math: 150,000 fires in gasoline cars over 3 trillion miles is a rate of one fire every 20 million miles.

Whereas one fire over 100 million miles covered by existing Tesla Model S cars is a rate of one fire per 100 million miles.

Perhaps that figure should now be adjusted to one fire per 33 million miles (or slightly more, to account for additional miles driven over the past month).


How many cars are damaged by road debris every year?

How many road-debris incidents result in fires?

What kind of testing did Tesla do to determine an adequate level of protection for its battery pack, which is under the cabin floor of the car from axle to axle, side to side?

Fisker Karma on fire in Woodside, California

Fisker Karma on fire in Woodside, California

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How was the Tesla battery pack involved in each of the three fires--if it was?

Why was the third fire located at the very front of the car--well ahead of the front end of the battery?

(Remember a handful of Fisker Karma fires were caused by a defective cooling fan--having nothing to do with the cars' battery packs--although admittedly, the fires did not come after the cars struck road debris.)

How will the NHTSA conduct its investigation? Will it include simulating punctures or impacts to actual Tesla vehicles or battery packs?

Is there any way to tone down the media sensationalism and get everyone to take a deep breath?

OK, maybe that last one is beyond the bounds of reality.


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