Automotive

Model S battery fire hits Tesla share price

Model S battery fire hits Tesl...
A Tesla Model S that did not have a battery fire (Photo: Crixxor)
A Tesla Model S that did not have a battery fire (Photo: Crixxor)
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A Tesla Model S that did not have a battery fire (Photo: Crixxor)
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A Tesla Model S that did not have a battery fire (Photo: Crixxor)

A Tesla Model S electric automobile, a model which recently won Consumer Reports' Top Scoring Car award and aced the NHTSA's crash rating system, caught fire yesterday in an incident near Seattle. Tesla's shares fell 6.2 percent on the day as a result of the incident.

"Yesterday, a Model S collided with a large metallic object in the middle of the road, causing significant damage to the vehicle," Tesla said in a statement to Jalopnik. "The car’s alert system signaled a problem and instructed the driver to pull over safely, which he did. No one was injured, and the sole occupant had sufficient time to exit the vehicle safely and call the authorities. Subsequently, a fire caused by the substantial damage sustained during the collision was contained to the front of the vehicle thanks to the design and construction of the vehicle and battery pack. All indications are that the fire never entered the interior cabin of the car. It was extinguished on-site by the fire department."

The 85 kWh lithium ion battery is located under the floor of the passenger compartment of the Model S. Only one of the 16 modules was damaged when a metallic object was thrown up from the road and impacted the battery pack. There were no injuries in the fire, which was tackled by firefighters from the Kent Regional Fire Authority. This video, taken by a passer by, shows the fire.

International Business Times relates that, based on an incident report filed by the Regional Fire Authority of Kent, Washington, the fire appeared at one time to be brought under control, but the flames reignited. As water seemed to intensify the fire, firefighters began to use a dry chemical extinguisher. In the end, the front end of the car had to be disassembled. Holes were punched in the battery pack, and a circular saw provided access to apply water to the battery, which finally quenched the fire.

The US government is not investigating the incident, as it has shut down nonessential operations.

UPDATE, October 4, 2013:

Tesla has released the following statement regarding the incident:

About the Model S fire

By Elon Musk, Chairman, Product Architect & CEO

Earlier this week, a Model S traveling at highway speed struck a large metal object, causing significant damage to the vehicle. A curved section that fell off a semi-trailer was recovered from the roadway near where the accident occurred and, according to the road crew that was on the scene, appears to be the culprit. The geometry of the object caused a powerful lever action as it went under the car, punching upward and impaling the Model S with a peak force on the order of 25 tons. Only a force of this magnitude would be strong enough to punch a 3 inch diameter hole through the quarter inch armor plate protecting the base of the vehicle.

The Model S owner was nonetheless able to exit the highway as instructed by the onboard alert system, bring the car to a stop and depart the vehicle without injury. A fire caused by the impact began in the front battery module – the battery pack has a total of 16 modules – but was contained to the front section of the car by internal firewalls within the pack. Vents built into the battery pack directed the flames down towards the road and away from the vehicle.

When the fire department arrived, they observed standard procedure, which was to gain access to the source of the fire by puncturing holes in the top of the battery's protective metal plate and applying water. For the Model S lithium-ion battery, it was correct to apply water (vs. dry chemical extinguisher), but not to puncture the metal firewall, as the newly created holes allowed the flames to then vent upwards into the front trunk section of the Model S. Nonetheless, a combination of water followed by dry chemical extinguisher quickly brought the fire to an end.

It is important to note that the fire in the battery was contained to a small section near the front by the internal firewalls built into the pack structure. At no point did fire enter the passenger compartment.

Had a conventional gasoline car encountered the same object on the highway, the result could have been far worse. A typical gasoline car only has a thin metal sheet protecting the underbody, leaving it vulnerable to destruction of the fuel supply lines or fuel tank, which causes a pool of gasoline to form and often burn the entire car to the ground. In contrast, the combustion energy of our battery pack is only about 10% of the energy contained in a gasoline tank and is divided into 16 modules with firewalls in between. As a consequence, the effective combustion potential is only about 1% that of the fuel in a comparable gasoline sedan.

The nationwide driving statistics make this very clear: there are 150,000 car fires per year according to the National Fire Protection Association, and Americans drive about 3 trillion miles per year according to the Department of Transportation. That equates to 1 vehicle fire for every 20 million miles driven, compared to 1 fire in over 100 million miles for Tesla. This means you are 5 times more likely to experience a fire in a conventional gasoline car than a Tesla!

For consumers concerned about fire risk, there should be absolutely zero doubt that it is safer to power a car with a battery than a large tank of highly flammable liquid.

— Elon

Sources: Jalopnik, International Business Times

A Tesla Model S electric automobile, a model which recently won Consumer Reports' Top Scoring Car award and aced the NHTSA's crash rating system, caught fire yesterday in an incident near Seattle. Tesla's shares fell 6.2 percent on the day as a result of the incident.

"Yesterday, a Model S collided with a large metallic object in the middle of the road, causing significant damage to the vehicle," Tesla said in a statement to Jalopnik. "The car’s alert system signaled a problem and instructed the driver to pull over safely, which he did. No one was injured, and the sole occupant had sufficient time to exit the vehicle safely and call the authorities. Subsequently, a fire caused by the substantial damage sustained during the collision was contained to the front of the vehicle thanks to the design and construction of the vehicle and battery pack. All indications are that the fire never entered the interior cabin of the car. It was extinguished on-site by the fire department."

The 85 kWh lithium ion battery is located under the floor of the passenger compartment of the Model S. Only one of the 16 modules was damaged when a metallic object was thrown up from the road and impacted the battery pack. There were no injuries in the fire, which was tackled by firefighters from the Kent Regional Fire Authority. This video, taken by a passer by, shows the fire.

International Business Times relates that, based on an incident report filed by the Regional Fire Authority of Kent, Washington, the fire appeared at one time to be brought under control, but the flames reignited. As water seemed to intensify the fire, firefighters began to use a dry chemical extinguisher. In the end, the front end of the car had to be disassembled. Holes were punched in the battery pack, and a circular saw provided access to apply water to the battery, which finally quenched the fire.

The US government is not investigating the incident, as it has shut down nonessential operations.

UPDATE, October 4, 2013:

Tesla has released the following statement regarding the incident:

About the Model S fire

By Elon Musk, Chairman, Product Architect & CEO

Earlier this week, a Model S traveling at highway speed struck a large metal object, causing significant damage to the vehicle. A curved section that fell off a semi-trailer was recovered from the roadway near where the accident occurred and, according to the road crew that was on the scene, appears to be the culprit. The geometry of the object caused a powerful lever action as it went under the car, punching upward and impaling the Model S with a peak force on the order of 25 tons. Only a force of this magnitude would be strong enough to punch a 3 inch diameter hole through the quarter inch armor plate protecting the base of the vehicle.

The Model S owner was nonetheless able to exit the highway as instructed by the onboard alert system, bring the car to a stop and depart the vehicle without injury. A fire caused by the impact began in the front battery module – the battery pack has a total of 16 modules – but was contained to the front section of the car by internal firewalls within the pack. Vents built into the battery pack directed the flames down towards the road and away from the vehicle.

When the fire department arrived, they observed standard procedure, which was to gain access to the source of the fire by puncturing holes in the top of the battery's protective metal plate and applying water. For the Model S lithium-ion battery, it was correct to apply water (vs. dry chemical extinguisher), but not to puncture the metal firewall, as the newly created holes allowed the flames to then vent upwards into the front trunk section of the Model S. Nonetheless, a combination of water followed by dry chemical extinguisher quickly brought the fire to an end.

It is important to note that the fire in the battery was contained to a small section near the front by the internal firewalls built into the pack structure. At no point did fire enter the passenger compartment.

Had a conventional gasoline car encountered the same object on the highway, the result could have been far worse. A typical gasoline car only has a thin metal sheet protecting the underbody, leaving it vulnerable to destruction of the fuel supply lines or fuel tank, which causes a pool of gasoline to form and often burn the entire car to the ground. In contrast, the combustion energy of our battery pack is only about 10% of the energy contained in a gasoline tank and is divided into 16 modules with firewalls in between. As a consequence, the effective combustion potential is only about 1% that of the fuel in a comparable gasoline sedan.

The nationwide driving statistics make this very clear: there are 150,000 car fires per year according to the National Fire Protection Association, and Americans drive about 3 trillion miles per year according to the Department of Transportation. That equates to 1 vehicle fire for every 20 million miles driven, compared to 1 fire in over 100 million miles for Tesla. This means you are 5 times more likely to experience a fire in a conventional gasoline car than a Tesla!

For consumers concerned about fire risk, there should be absolutely zero doubt that it is safer to power a car with a battery than a large tank of highly flammable liquid.

— Elon

Sources: Jalopnik, International Business Times

20 comments
Daryl McDougall
I've owned only diesel cars for the last 18 years but if I was worried about being incinerated in a car crash my choices would be in order. EV Diesel Gasoline LPG
tyme2par4
It will be interesting to see exactly what caused the fire. Was it directly caused by the damage to the battery, or did damage to another component lead to the fire, and the battery joined? Regardless, EVs are still far more safe than a gasoline car.
Dave B13
Magnesium car parts on fire are a nightmare, water makes a worse burn, and CO2 on magnesium fire is also a problem. Burning titanium is also a problem. Read the link and google if a concern: http://firelink.monster.com/training/articles/849-is-it-time-to-change-our-training-yet-part-4-magnesium-fires?page=1
Mantion
How on earth would a highly reactive metal like lithium catch fire? Very odd. I hear that some lithium batteries in laptops caught fire when over used or over charged? I wonder if the lithium batteries that burned in this care is some how related to lithium laptop batteries that burn. Of course that is sarcasm. Batteries are for toys not transportation. We need to ban EV car so these companies will stop wasting time and money on these stupid things. We could do so much more if we focused on bio fuels, CNG or even straight Hydrogen.
Nairda
Typical alarmist reaction to a non-issue. Anything to smear the image of electrics. How many people perished in internal combustion vehicle fires before they got that one right? Regardless, its all an engineering fix: "Only one of the 16 modules was damaged when a metallic object was thrown up from the road and impacted the battery pack." Install bash plate to protect pack from mechanical damage "As water seemed to intensify the fire, firefighters began to use a dry chemical extinguisher. In the end, the front end of the car had to be disassembled. " Install a dry chemical fire suppression system around the battery pack and power electronics modules. "Holes were punched in the battery pack, and a circular saw provided access to apply water to the battery, which finally quenched the fire." Make maintenance ports available that can be accessed in an emergency from the outside of the vehicle to pump dry chem and/water into the pack below with venting to allow the water easy circulation through the pack. "All indications are that the fire never entered the interior cabin of the car. " Insulate the pack with fire proof material so this is a certainty.
Rocky Stefano
A Ferrari catches fire and its no big deal. An electric car does and its news?
Dave B13
Another thing came to mind that may make for a safer battery system. Tesla uses thousands of little batteries with a lot of monitoring and car contained selection of them for use. It seems fire would spread slower from one burning battery to heat up and start other batteries burning, Than the fewer larger batteies used in other EV battery systems: http://auto.howstuffworks.com/tesla-roadster.htm "... Tesla went with technology proven in the laptop computer field -- rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. The Roadster contains 6,831 of them. ..." Also there are different versions of the lithium batteries, more recent ones far less likely to self destruct than earlier designs.
CliffG
We learn from the video that something penetrated the battery pack as a result of the accident. Can you imagine what would have happened with an ICE vehicle if the fuel line or the gas tank had been penetrated? More like this: http://ktla.com/2013/06/19/driver-killed-in-fiery-car-crash-in-hollywood/#axzz2gkcCH2Dx That driver might still be alive if he'd been driving a Tesla instead of a Mercedes.
morongobill
It's big news when you have the financial interests standing by just looking for any reason to short this stock and make millions in the process. All they need is an incident that will puncture the aura of invincibility around the stock and then as the investor psychology changes, they pile on. It isn't just all about the technology. The same old human traits- fear, greed, envy, hubris- all will play at one point or another in this story, as long as Wall Street has anything to do with it.
Mitchele Vigil
In the past couple of weeks, a lamborghini, a ferrari, and Van Dykes Jaguar all caught fire and burned to the ground. Did the respective shares in those companies take a hit? The fact that Tesla shares was mentioned, the selling of said share is from day-readers, people who were profit taking, and selling on the news. Nothing more. To the guy who argues for a cessation of battery powered vehicles, you obviously have a no substantive understanding of something as simple as energy density, and the entropy of powering vehicles with hydrogen.