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This is the third fire in under a two-month period

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has decided to look into the latest fire involving Tesla Motors' Model S. 

According to The Detroit News, NHTSA will review what is now the third Model S to catch fire in under a two-month period. This most recent incident took place near Smyrna, Tennessee. 

The Tennessee fire took place when a Model S driver hit a tow hitch on Interstate 24, which damaged the car’s undercarriage and caused a fire. The driver was able to exit the vehicle safely.

“NHTSA is in close communication with Tesla and local authorities gathering information about the incident to determine if additional action is necessary,” said NHTSA.

Special focus is being placed on the fact that the Model S' battery is located near the underside, making the battery an easy target when striking debris or hitting pavement -- thus increasing the risk of a fire.

This could lead to stronger methods of protecting the EV's battery pack. 

NHTSA has not opened a formal investigation on the Tesla crashes yet, likely because this is the first incident it's addressing.


Model S fire in Smyrna, Tenn. [Image Source: Associated Press]

But this isn't the first Tesla fire to occur. In early October, a Model S driver in Kent, Washington was traveling southbound on state Route 167 when he hit a piece of metal debris on the freeway. He then exited the freeway, and the car became disabled right before he smelled something burning. The car caught fire.
 
Tesla spokeswoman Liz Jarvis-Shean said the fire was caused by a large metallic object hitting one of the battery pack’s modules. NHTSA did not investigate the fire at the time because of the partial government shutdown, which suspended such activity. 

Another Model S fire occurred shortly after in Mexico, but that's out of NHTSA's jurisdiction. 

Tesla said all three fires were caused by crashes; not spontaneous events.

Tesla and its Model S have been in the spotlight a lot this year after the company successfully paid off its government loans nine years early, pulled a profit, unveiled new tech for its electric car and the Model S even snagged the highest safety rating from the NHTSA. But it's unclear if this hiccup will further heighten the fear surrounding lithium ion batteries for cars, and possibly even take a toll on Model S sales. 

Source: The Detroit News



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RE: Lithium batteries burn
By Guspaz on 11/11/2013 1:13:37 PM , Rating: 2
Tesla Model S vehicles have a quarter inch thick aluminum plate covering the battery, which will likely provide more impact resistance than the body steel of a conventional vehicle. The difference is that the surface area is significantly larger as compared to a gas tank. Then again, the gas tank isn't the only thing you need to worry about should a large metal projectile attempt to penetrate your vehicle from beneath; you'd want to worry about passengers too.

It's entirely possible that Tesla can produce a battery back with better impact resistance, but in the mean time the complete lack of injury in all cases indicates that this problem isn't really so severe. This isn't a case of damage causing a sudden and unexpected fire, this is a case of damage causing an uncontrollable but stable increase in temperature which provides a large amount of advanced warning to the vehicle (and driver) that they should exit the vehicle.


RE: Lithium batteries burn
By Iridium130m on 11/11/2013 2:43:06 PM , Rating: 2
Fully agree...the battery container design in terms of protecting the occupants in a battery thermal runaway event is now field tried and true and works. The systems notify the occupants of the issue and they have time to get away to safety.

The question now becomes how regularly will these fire events occur due to the nature of the placement, size, and design of the battery and will the regulators expect something to be done about this to mitigate risk to other people on the road or nearby. e.g. what if the driver parks the car in a parking spot near other cars or a building?

The interesting thing is with how many Chevy Volts on the road (my daily driver is one of those, and I would love to own a tesla, so I'm not bashing them here, just concerned), i haven't heard of any issues with them catching on fire due to a road debris impact. But the surface area of the battery underneath the car is significantly less, plus the motors (electric and gas) are in the front to help absorb an impact before getting to a battery. Just a working theory.


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