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Tesla Model S Catches Fire: Is This Tesla's 'Toyota' Moment? 388

Posted by timothy
from the electric-boogaloo dept.
cartechboy writes "A Tesla Model S was involved in an accident in Washington state on Tuesday, and the car's battery pack caught fire (with some of it caught on video). The cause of the accident is pretty clear, and Tesla issued a statement that the vehicle hit 'a large metallic object in the middle of the road.' Whether that collision immediately set off a fire in the Model S's battery pack isn't known, but a report from the Regional Fire Authority of Kent, Washington went into detail on the battery pack fire saying the car's lithium-ion battery was on fire when firefighters arrived, and spraying water on it had little effect. Firefighters switched to a dry chemical extinguisher and had to puncture numerous holes into the battery pack to extinguish it completely. Aside from the details of how the battery fire happened and was handled, the big question is what effect it will have on how people view Teslas in the near and middle-term. Is this Tesla's version of 2010's high profile Prius recall issue where pundits and critics took the opportunity to stir fears of the cars new technology?"
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Tesla Model S Catches Fire: Is This Tesla's 'Toyota' Moment?

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  • Big Oil is Dancing (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 03, 2013 @01:37PM (#45027041)

    "That's TERRIBLE!" they laughed.

  • vs gasoline cars (Score:5, Insightful)

    by KernelMuncher (989766) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @01:37PM (#45027049)
    obviously gasoline cars never catch on fire
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 03, 2013 @01:38PM (#45027065)

    News at 11.

    Gasoline burns too. I don't really see many people avoiding the purchase of gasoline-powered cars since, like FOREVER.

  • So? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NewtonsLaw (409638) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @01:39PM (#45027073)

    Of course a gasoline-powered car has *never* caught on fire after a crash [/sarc]

    No matter what mechanism we use for storing large amounts of energy in a small package, there is *always* the risk that it will be subject to an uncontrolled release if it suffers a physical insult.

    Call me when a Tesla spontaneously explodes in flames... then it's time to get worried.

  • by ScottCooperDotNet (929575) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @01:39PM (#45027075)

    No. A single incident without a fatality is rarely a cause for such panic unless this is hyped by those opposed to electric cars.

  • by mark-t (151149) <markt@lynx.b c . ca> on Thursday October 03, 2013 @01:40PM (#45027101) Journal

    Of course water intensified the effect... it's an electrical fire!

    Anyways... I didn't see anything in the article about it. Did the battery actually explode? If not, then there's an argument for increased safety over gasoline, isn't it?

  • No. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bmajik (96670) <> on Thursday October 03, 2013 @01:45PM (#45027167) Homepage Journal

    Tesla has been very brilliant thus far in their product strategy.

    They have made expensive, high end products that are tailored to affluent enthusiasts. They have been working their way down from "least practical" to "most practical".

    Enthusiasts and early adopters are much more willing to put up with teething problems in new technologies.

    These are not disposable cars that you will see filled with McDonalds wrappers.

    So the typical tesla customer isn't stupid white trash looking to cash in on a lawsuit with the help of an ambulance chasing lawyer (yet).

    Furthermore, consider the competition: If you believe the party line, A Mercedes Benz can randomly eject its drivetrain and burn itself to a crisp, killing the occupants.

    Everyone (including the test data and real-world data) agrees that MB makes exceptionally survivable vehicles. So freak things may happen.

    What we saw in this case was that the Tesla hit something, nobody was hurt, the vehicle didn't lose control, and after the driver safely stopped and exited the car, the firefighters had to deal with a slightly new type of fire situation then they are used to.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @01:50PM (#45027225) Journal

    This is about the same as a large metal object ripping open your fuel tank and having the gasoline igniting save it's far more likely the fuel fire will consume the entire car quickly but on the reverse side it's probably easier to put out. The only real solution would be to not use lithium as a battery component which isn't possible at this time.

    It's a thing to note, in the sense that fire departments/first responder types need to behave differently around a light metal fire than they do around a hydrocarbon fire (this is one of the reasons why hazardous materials storage/reporting regulations have involved the local fire department for decades in many locations: if Warehouse B catches fire, will spraying it with water stop the fire, or cause the place to explode?); but we aren't talking markedly different overall amounts of stored energy here. Even if Teslas were magically impossible to extinguish, the 'stand at a safe distance and watch' strategy works.

  • Of course not. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rainwalker (174354) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @01:53PM (#45027289)

    The driver hit something in the road; the vehicle detected the damage, realized it was going to catch on fire, and politely asked the driver to pull over and exit the vehicle. Once the driver had exited, the battery compartment started merrily burning, but the design kept the fire contained within the front compartment. At no point did the fire enter the passenger compartment, which would have been perfectly safe for the driver. Frankly, I can only dream of owning such a safe vehicle.

  • by CaptainLard (1902452) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @01:56PM (#45027327)
    Actually despite what hollywood would have you believe, modern cars are very good at not catching fire in a crash. As is the Tesla in most cases I'm sure. As more of them get out there, more unforeseen circumstances will occur but I'm assuming no one got hurt (else that would have been the headline) so its a great data point to make a safe car even safer. And Prius sales are doing just fine....
  • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @01:58PM (#45027345)
    Hopefully tesla will point that out, but the story here is public relations. The public is illogical. They can easily come to believe that Teslas are much less safe than the competition, even if that isn't really the case. Car companies and the oil industry obviously have an interest in spreading FUD to foster that effect, and would have absolutely no qualms about doing so. They've played dirty so far.

    The name Tesla is fitting, since Nikolai Tesla faced a similar situation in life with Edison.
  • No he does not (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sjbe (173966) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @02:01PM (#45027387)

    Seems to me that Elon Musk may have some egg on his face since he so boldly offered to help out Boeing redesign their battery system on the 787 not to long ago

    There is a huge difference between catching fire due to (apparently) catastrophic damage from flying debris and catching fire due under expected use conditions. So the answer is no, he does not have any egg on his face.

    It seems that Tesla's Li-ion batteries are just as likely to catch on fire!

    Any Li-ion battery can become flammable under the right conditions.

  • by Smidge204 (605297) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @02:01PM (#45027391) Journal

    Every ~2 minutes, a fire department somewhere in the US responds to another call of a vehicle fire.

    Statistically, on a per-car basis, they are safe... but there are so many vehicles that vehicle fires are actually quite common.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 03, 2013 @02:06PM (#45027487)

    Two can play the FUD game. The public might not consider that gasoline cars burn even worse when the gas tank is punctured by road "metal objects".

    So Tesla should tell them directly. "Yes, one of our cars burned this year - and nobody was hurt. And in the same year, x thousand gasoline cars burned, with z number of fatalities . . ." They could make a commercial based on this.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 03, 2013 @02:07PM (#45027489)

    admittedly it took a head-on collision to do that while the Boeing aircraft was just sitting there, but it seems that the Tesla has the same Achilles heal!

    Heel. And, no.

    Look, I dislike Elon Musk more than the next guy (this is Slashdot, so the next guy is probably a fanboi sycophant), but yeah, no. Metal debris impacting an absurdly powerful battery is not the same as, "plane caught on fire again for no reason, cap'n, lol".

  • by Guspaz (556486) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @02:11PM (#45027551)

    Boeing 787: Multiple fires out of 83 deployed vehicles. All fires happened without collision, one happened while vehicle was parked.
    Tesla Model S: One fire out of ~14,000 deployed vehicles. The fire happened due to a collision.

    Yeah, I think Tesla's doing pretty well relative to Boeing here...

  • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @02:16PM (#45027631) Homepage

    Reading the article, it appears that they did spray water on it first - makes sense, it's not like it's all that easy to ID a burning car. Then they noticed odd behavior, the fire got worse - OK, we know how to deal with that - stop the water, grab the dry chemical extinguisher.

    Then they had to puzzle through how to put the fire out completely given they were out in the middle of the road. Seems like they did a pretty good job. A few motorists were inconvenienced, no one was hurt. People learned things. Probably will be the talk of the department for weeks.

    I'll bet it was the highlight of their day (the FD folks, perhaps the owner, but in a different sense).

  • Racism is racism (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 03, 2013 @02:18PM (#45027661)

    white trash

    I'd imagine people would be less inclined to mod you up if you used the word nigger, but the intent is the same.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 03, 2013 @02:49PM (#45028107)
    Because gasoline/diesel powered cars never ever ever catch fire after an accident.
  • by Dunbal (464142) * on Thursday October 03, 2013 @02:58PM (#45028241)
    Er I think you meant to say liquid gasoline doesn't EXPLODE, because it burns quite readily. Although it is the vapor that is ultra-sensitive to sparks or any open flame, but gasoline has no problem burning quite quickly and releasing a hell of a lot of energy while it does.
  • by mellon (7048) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @03:34PM (#45028765) Homepage

    Ha! Yes, this is true. But they also burn in real life. I've seen it happen twice. The heat that comes off of a burning gasoline car is intense even from a couple of lanes away. It's nothing like what's shown in this video. I think the Tesla engineers can pat themselves on the back—it looks like the battery of this car was severely compromised, and still did not dump all its energy at once.

  • by alva_edison (630431) <ThAlEdison&gmail,com> on Thursday October 03, 2013 @03:43PM (#45028883)

    To-Do list prior to Summer 2015:

    • Invent Mr. Fusion
    • Government Weather Service to control the Weather
    • Widespread neural Interfaces for games, such that a light gun seems like a "baby's toy"
    • Widespread use of hover-conversion vehicles
    • Volumetric 3D common enough to be used in advertisement, does not require special eyewear, unaffected by sunlight.
    • Release 14 more Jaws movies, and schedule Jaws 19 to be a summer blockbuster.
    • Invent a new type of soda(pop) container to replace cans/bottles. Also replaces restaurant soda(pop) fountains
    • Clothing comes with wearable computer which adjust sizes/ speaks/ air-dries.
    • Widespread cybernetics.
    • Books so uncommon, that knowledge of dust jackets is unusual. However, newspapers are still around
    • In-home fruit planter on motor from ceiling, common in upper-middle class homes.
    • Delivery food is now dehydrated. Hydrator replaces Microwave.
    • Fax machines make a large-scale comeback and are everywhere.
    • Google glass used for everyday tasks, multiple styles.
  • by Benaiah (851593) on Friday October 04, 2013 @04:26AM (#45033579)
    Seriously though. I have seen a Diesel Toyota hilux catch fire after hitting a tree and diesel is very hard to start a fire with. Petrol cars catch fire all the time. I highly doubt that these battery packs are statistically more likely to catch fire than a Petrol car. Please ignore overly dramatic journalism. These cars are thoroughly tested before they get approval to be on the road. Much more so than the dodgey chinese imports that are arriving.

He keeps differentiating, flying off on a tangent.