US Authorities Won’t Open Formal Tesla Fire Investigation

After informally gathering info on the one Tesla Model S fire known thus far to have happened, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it will not open a formal investigation into the incident.

Earlier this month in Seattle the electric car being driven by its owner on the highway is believed to have struck some sturdy metal debris which ruptured the armor protecting the battery, initiating the fire.

In a statement, NHTSA said it would continue to receive any customer complaints, but having reviewed all available data NHTSA said Tesla is in the clear.

This compares to an investigation that was opened by NHTSA in 2011 based on a single fire for the Chevrolet Volt that was actually caused by federal investigators when they side-impact tested the car, then stored it with partial charge remaining in its battery.

After the Volt caught fire within a couple of weeks, the Volt was the subject of far more media scrutiny than Tesla is receiving. The incident motivated General Motors to offer a buyback program for worried Volt owners, prompted a hearing by House Republicans, and eventually a safety update to reinforce the battery.

The Volt however had been demonized besides as the product of a bankrupted company that had a perceptibly checkered past but was given a bailout with taxpayer dollars, and the Volt specifically was given a boost by the Obama administration.

The start up company Tesla in contrast is the darling of Wall Street at the moment, and its Model S made by a fresh-faced hopeful is enjoying tremendous international popular approval.

That a single car fire could become national news at all is believed to be largely because cars powered by lithium-ion batteries are so new, and unknown to many are the implications, as shown by some laptop fires that have been reported, not to mention incidents with Boeing’s Dreamliner aircraft.

Actually, if fire is the fear, internal combustion passenger cars that have already long-since been accepted have a far more concerning record. Automakers have made great strides to contain potential dangers from highly combustible gasoline, but presently around 194,000 cars are involved in fires each year in the U.S.

Electric cars comprise only one percent of U.S. sales at this juncture, and so the jury is still out by the feds, and the court of public opinion.

For his part, Tesla chief Elon Musk commented on the safety of the Model S, and said an apples-to apples comparison based on miles traveled per vehicle on the road indicates gas cars are five-times more likely to burn than a Model S.

What’s more, the potential violence of a gas-car fire is well documented and gas has been known to powerfully explode and occupants have been injured or burned to death in gas cars.

Lithium-ion batteries can experience “thermal runaway” and catch fire rather rapidly depending on their chemistry. The Panasonic 18650 cells in a Model S are indeed flammable, but are contained as modules in isolating firewalls to mitigate the potential.

To date thousands have been maimed and killed in gas cars, not one has in an electric cars, not one has ever “blown up” as has been inaccurately reported, but watchful eyes are on electric cars ready to blow up the news if and when it does happen.