A third Tesla Model S car fire means Tesla has to proactively fix the problem

Yesterday another Tesla Model S fire occurred on the heels of Tesla Motors’ Q3 2013 financial results which had disappointed Wall Street who sent the stock down 14% on Wednesday.  News of the Model S fire came too late in the day to affect the stock on Wednesday, so it’s safe to say that drop was entirely due to the Q3 results.  Already today, Thursday, Tesla’s stock price has fallen another 6%.  But the big story is, we have had three Model S fires in the last five weeks.  There is surely going to be another round of out-of-proportion focus on this crash, and some will latch onto this and say “SEE! Electric Cars are Dangerous After All”.  Sigh.

What we know is that this incident looks to be nearly identical to the Kent Washington fire.  A Model S traveling on its own, doesn’t hit any other cars, instead drives over some road debris, and ends up on the side of the road burning.  We haven’t verified the Model S near Nashville also drove over road debris, but it otherwise looks like the same kind of incident.

Tesla Motors has sent a team to Tennessee to retrieve the car and study it.   They’ve been in contact with the driver, who says the car saved his life.   Tesla provided this official statement: “We have been in contact with
the driver, who was not injured and believes the car saved his life. Our
team is on its way to Tennessee to learn more about what happened. We
will provide more information when we’re able to do so.”

If both the Kent WA and Nashville TN incidents have the same cause, this indicates the Tesla Model S has a vulnerability.  They put the battery pack on the bottom of the car, and it contributes to stability by putting lots of weight low and centered.  But that could be a vulnerable underbelly.

Will Tesla Motors respond by adding more aluminum to the bottom of the car?  We know from their explanation of the first fire that the battery pack is protected by 1/4″ thick aluminum plate.  Adding more armoring will make it less likely for road debris to pierce the battery pack.

But what’s more important is what this will do to public perception around electric cars, or the Tesla Model S.  Looking around Twitter and even the Tesla Motors Club forum I’m seeing reactions where people are now afraid because of a third fire.

Bogus “news” coverage like this doesn’t help.

This coverage is full of lies – note that this is dated Nov. 4, two days before the Nashville fire.  For example, there are hundreds of thousands of gas car fires a year, and the Federal Government isn’t, as she suggests, yelling at the car companies to fix every single problem.  For example, NHTSA did investigate the Model S fire, but decided to not investigate further.  Further, for the second Tesla Model S fire she showed a picture of the first one.  And, did any of these cars “burn to the ground”?  Nope.  Their passenger cabins were all intact after the fire.  As for minor issues she rattled off, Tesla has been proactive about fixing them, and in any case don’t the major car companies also have issues with quality control?  I remember one huge recall which came about because the manufacturer forgot to install brake pads in one vehicle.

Gasoline car fires are so common that they go unreported by the media.  Then, when it comes time for the major media to cover a car fire, they pretend there isn’t already an epidemic of gasoline car fires, and then present the Tesla Model S car fires as outrageously dangerous.

The other day I wrote about how electric vehicles need to be so excellent that there’s no room for the “eeeeew” factor.  Electric vehicles are “new” and therefore get the same treatment as any other strange new thing.  Lots of people are curious but don’t know whether these strange new things are trustable.  There is such a pressing need to get lots of these cars on the road, and the “eeeew” factor could derail the whole project.

Tesla Motors needs to get out ahead of this story, and show that they’re proactively fixing problems.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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