Third Tesla Model S catches fireThu, 07 Nov 2013
Update: According to an Automotive News report, "NHTSA said it will contact local authorities about the latest fire 'to determine if there are vehicle safety implications that merit agency action.'" The agency had previously backed away from an investigation after determining that vehicle defects were not to blame for the fire in early October.
Just after Tesla Motors reported a $38 million third-quarter loss and within a few weeks of two other car fires, a third Model S sedan reportedly burned on the highway near Smyrna, Tenn.
The Tesla Motors Club forum supplied photos of the crash, which occurred around 1:30 Wednesday afternoon, in addition to intense speculation on the cause of the fire. A Reuters report suggests that the fire could have broken out after the car ran over metal road debris. Once under the car, the debris could have launched upward -- Tesla calls this a “pole-vault effect” -- and then damaged a battery, sparking a fire. This seems to have been the case in the Seattle-area blaze in early October.
Interestingly, an early report on the incident quotes the local police dispatcher referring to damage to the car's “engine compartment.” Clearly, electric-car nomenclature hasn't quite caught up with recent technological developments, further clouding crash analysis.
Police reports aside, extensive fire damage ahead of the front-wheel wells makes it difficult to tell what, if any, damage the car sustained to its front end before catching fire. Based on the few available photos of the crash, the Model S seems to be alone on the left shoulder with no other damaged vehicles or debris in the frame. It is possible that the car sustained some damage near the passenger side rear wheel, but we'll have to wait for clearer images to confirm.
According to Tesla, the driver of the car was not injured. In fact, he believes the car saved his life in the crash. It's worth noting that, despite this spate of recent fires, the Model S retains a very high NHTSA safety rating -- and non-electric cars have been catching fire since the dawn of internal combustion.
Tesla has dispatched investigators to the scene to determine the cause of the fire. We'll bring you additional information on the event when it becomes available, as well as any further statements from Tesla on the matter.
By Graham Kozak