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Tesla fights fires with software and statistics

Upgrade automatically lifts the Model S at highway speeds, while Elon Musk compares number of fires between EVs and gasoline vehicles.

By Douglas Newcomb Nov 22, 2013 9:32AM

In character with its high-tech trappings -- and with CEO and cofounder Elon Musk’s combative reputation -- electric vehicle maker Tesla Motors responded to a government investigation of recent Model S fires with a pair of unprecedented approaches.

First, the upstart automaker said it will address the potential fire issue with a wireless update to Model S software that will automatically raise the car's height at highway speeds, but adamantly denied that move was safety-related.

Second, instead of playing nice per the typical automaker tactic, Musk has pulled out statistics that compare fires in electric cars to gasoline-powered vehicles to prove that EVs are at least as safe as traditional vehicles on the road today.

The feds are looking into fires triggered by accidents -- where drivers ran over a piece of debris in the road that damaged the battery pack -- after they took place in Washington and Tennessee (pictured above). Another fire occurred in Mexico that did not involve debris.

Musk didn’t acknowledge safety concerns in a recent blog post, and called the software update a move to reduce chances of underbody impact damage. To further alleviate owners’ concerns, Tesla Motors is amending its warranty to “cover damage due to a fire, even if due to driver error.”  Musk added in his blog, “To be clear, this is about reducing the chances of underbody impact damage, not improving safety."

Musk took mainstream media to task for what he sees as sensational coverage of a nonissue.  “Reading the headlines, it is therefore easy to assume that the Tesla Model S and perhaps electric cars in general have a greater propensity to catch fire than gasoline cars when nothing could be further from the truth,” he wrote.

He also said that "the Model S is safer in an accident than any other vehicle without exception. It is literally impossible for another car to have a better safety track record, as it would have to possess mystical powers of healing."

Musk backed up his claims by offer statistics from the National Fire Protection Agency that shows more than 250,000 gasoline vehicle fires since the Model S hit the road last year, resulting in more than 400 deaths and some 1,200 injuries. The Model S fires currently under investigation grabbed more headlines than all of those other fires combined, according to Musk. He also pointed out that of the approximately 19,000 Model S vehicles on the road since Tesla’s Q3 shareholder report averaged one fire per at least 6,333 cars, compared to the rate for gasoline vehicles of one fire per 1,350 cars.

[Source: Wired, USA Today]

Dec 2, 2013 3:42AM
Just like the corrupt and bought out media to try to discredit new technology in favor of the oil companies. Hardly a surprise.

Dec 2, 2013 4:25AM
Down though the automotive history, oil companies have suffocated innovative ideas for profit. 
Dec 2, 2013 5:21AM

Delorean, Tucker....who's next?

There is a history of trying to go against the big boys, but since the big boys are hurting lately, their power and control is diminishing.  Tesla might just make it!

I also like how "turning headlights" is a highlighted feature now, but they all laughed at Preston Tucker when he did it in his cars 70 years ago...well, until he was buried by the big boys.

Dec 2, 2013 3:41AM
We have to have the latest, greatest tech advances in our phones, computers, sporting equipment, housing, entertainment, food processing, booze making, but now we draw the line with the automobile? 
Dec 2, 2013 5:08AM
 I look forward to the day the technology catches up with electric vehicles and Tesla is leading the way. The day you can fully charge a car of this caliber in 1 hour, cruise at 70+ MPH for 300-500 miles between charges (and it WILL happen) that is the day I will buy one and be glad to walk away from the big oil pirates. 

Ok, bring on the pimply faced, X-box playing, sexually conflicted "T" downs. There really are a lot of you worthless little piss-ants out there LOL ..   ,,l,,
Dec 2, 2013 5:54AM
This man and company are the most exciting innovators of this century. The honesty and integrity of this group is impressive. The safety rating of this car is off the scale. If we all drove these cars highway deaths would be reduced to a true rarity. We as consumers need to buy and support this forward thinking way of bringing the better things that the future holds into our lives today.
Nov 30, 2013 5:45PM
 Get ready for computer controlled fire extinguishers.
Dec 2, 2013 4:52AM
87.3% of all statistics are made up on the spot...
Dec 2, 2013 4:37AM
Telsa, great car but overpriced. Simply a toy for the very rich. Just like cell phones 10 years from now the prices will start to come down. I'd like to buy a Nissan Leaf  but the price is just too high.
Dec 2, 2013 3:47AM
Shhhhh...Statistics scare nay~sayers.
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