RSS

The Bulletin

Tesla cars are catching fire (not in a good way)

Posting in Technology

Similar battery technology that has given Boeing so many headaches this year is now causing problems for one of the hottest companies of the year.

In the past six weeks, three Tesla Model S electric cars have caught fire, like this one in Kent, Washington:

The latest incident happened on Wednesday in Tennessee when a Tesla struck a tow hitch lying in the middle of the road and caught fire. And while only three cars out of the thousands the company has sold have had this problem, the latest incident has prompted an investigation from The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

Will these fires tarnish Tesla's reputation as one of the safest cars on the road? I doubt it considering all the fires were the result of accidents. If there are more mysterious fires like Boeing experienced on the Dreamliner, that would be a bigger problem.

But as The New York Times reports, some experts think there could be a fix in the works since the cars have a battery pack that sits so close to the ground:

Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Auto Safety, said that Wednesday’s incident showed that the first fire was not a fluke.

"The initial failure mode is puncture of the battery pack from road debris," Mr. Ditlow said. "The obvious engineering fix would be to add a safety shield. With Tesla, there is some protection there. They just need a better shield."

After months of good news, and a rising stock price, Tesla is hitting some roadblocks. At one point Tesla was valued at around one-third of Ford's market capitalization even though it had one percent of Ford's monthly U.S. sales. On word of the third fire, in addition to news of battery supply difficulties, Tesla's stock plummeted from about $180 per share earlier this week (and a peak near $200 this year) to around $140.

That doesn't mean Tesla can't turn things around. The company has big plans for the future, including the world's largest battery factory. But the ride has been a little bumpy lately.

Read more: New York Times

Photo: Tesla

— By on November 8, 2013, 10:05 AM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure