A report released on Wednesday by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) states that emergency responders have access to inadequate tools and training for fighting electric vehicle fires that occur. The NTSB arrived at this conclusion after investigating four separate EV fires involving lithium-ion batteries.
As we discussed before, electric car fires are fairly rare and nothing points to them being more frequent than in gas-powered vehicles, but this instance is particularly unusual because it actually occurred in a BMW i3 owned and operated by the Italian state police in Rome. Expand Expanding Close
Currently, a Model S has a 1 in 2.5 million chance of burning down while charging at a Tesla Supercharger but that’s really not something Tesla owners need to worry about. This statistic is simply based on the fact that Superchargers have been used 2.5 million times with only one report of a fire earlier this year in Norway. Though it was quite a significant fire, burning the car to the ground, no one fortunately was injured.
Today Tesla revealed that it concluded its own investigation and confirms that the cause of the fire was a short-circuit in the car and though the automaker doesn’t know why the short-circuit happened, and again the odds of another fire are extremely low, it will nonetheless push a software update to its fleet to “provide extra security during charging”. Expand Expanding Close
The authorities and Tesla launched investigations to determine the cause of the fire. Last week, the police released the scene of the Supercharger for the ‘crime technical examination’. Today we learn that the ‘Accident Investigation Board’ (AIBN) is shutting down the investigation, but not before disclosing that they found indications that the fire “originated in the car”. Expand Expanding Close
A Tesla Model S caught fire while plugged-in at a Supercharger in Norway, and almost completely burned down to nothing. The event happened at 14.30 Friday afternoon (local time) at a Tesla fast-charging station in Gjerstad, Norway Expand Expanding Close
First, we have rolled out an over-the-air update to the air suspension that will result in greater ground clearance at highway speeds. To be clear, this is about reducing the chances of underbody impact damage, not improving safety. The theoretical probability of a fire injury is already vanishingly small and the actual number to date is zero. Another software update expected in January will give the driver direct control of the air suspension ride height transitions.
Second, we have requested that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conduct a full investigation as soon as possible into the fire incidents. While we think it is highly unlikely, if something is discovered that would result in a material improvement in occupant fire safety, we will immediately apply that change to new cars and offer it as a free retrofit to all existing cars. Given that the incidence of fires in the Model S is far lower than combustion cars and that there have been no resulting injuries, this did not at first seem like a good use of NHTSA’s time compared to the hundreds of gasoline fire deaths per year that warrant their attention. However, there is a larger issue at stake: if a false perception about the safety of electric cars is allowed to linger, it will delay the advent of sustainable transport and increase the risk of global climate change, with potentially disastrous consequences worldwide. That cannot be allowed to happen.
Third, to reinforce how strongly we feel about the low risk of fire in our cars, we will be amending our warranty policy to cover damage due to a fire, even if due to driver error. Unless a Model S owner actively tries to destroy the car, they are covered. Our goal here is to eliminate any concern about the cost of such an event and ensure that over time the Model S has the lowest insurance cost of any car at our price point. Either our belief in the safety of our car is correct and this is a minor cost or we are wrong, in which case the right thing is for Tesla to bear the cost rather than the car buyer.