Gov’t Safety Agency Launches Investigation of Tesla Electric Car Fires

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Nov. 19 2013 6:11 PM

Gov’t Safety Agency Launches Investigation of Tesla Electric Car Fires

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A Tesla Model S car is displayed at a Tesla showroom.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The U.S. government announced on Tuesday that it has opened an investigation into recent battery fires in the Tesla Model S electric car. The formal investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration comes after three car fires in the last six weeks. Two of the fires occurred in the U.S. when the cars hit debris on the highway and the third broke out in Mexico after a car crashed into a wall and a tree at high speed, according to the New York Times. The drivers in all three incidents were not injured.

Tesla’s Model S has been billed by the company as “the safest car in America,” but the N.H.T.S.A. announced the probe amidst concerns that the model poses a fire risk due to the undercarriage of the car striking objects. Ahead of the inquiry, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced that Tesla is taking steps to reduce fire risk. The changes, according to USA Today, include “higher ground clearance to make them less likely to strike road debris that can potentially penetrate the battery pack and ignite a blaze,” as well as changing the cars’ warranty to include fire damage coverage.

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The investigation, according to Bloomberg, is “a possible precursor to a recall” of the more than 19,000 Model S cars on the road. Here’s more on what the investigation could look like, via the New York Times:

A N.H.T.S.A. defect investigation, which can take months to complete, could include crash tests of the vehicle. If a vehicle is determined to have a design defect that poses a safety risk, the government can order the manufacturer to recall cars already on the road and make structural changes. Additionally, regulators can impose fines if a company fails to address the problems.

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.

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