Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Bug Power Transportation

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?"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

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

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

    by Anonymous Coward

    "That's TERRIBLE!" they laughed.

  • vs gasoline cars (Score:5, Insightful)

    by KernelMuncher (989766) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @12:37PM (#45027049)
    obviously gasoline cars never catch on fire
    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @12:46PM (#45027177) Journal
      Big Astrology has covered this up; but it turns out that your safety is almost entirely determined by who was appointed as the director for your life story.

      If it's a documentary type, the risk is nonzero; but quite modest. If it's a moody psychological thriller, you should avoid flashbacks but are utterly safe. If it's an action shlock-slinger, colliding with a pothole, shopping cart, or just about anything else at more than a few miles an hour will produce a massive fireball. Be sure to practice jumping improbably to safety. In this last case, the safest way to navigate the roads is actually to either be chasing or chased by armed criminals/terrorists/secret agents at all times. While cars not involved in high-speed chases routinely explode at the slightest stimulus, being involved in a high speed chase improves performance and fuel economy by at least 50%, provides an immunity to most bodywork damage(except bullet holes through inessential pieces of glass, be sure that your insurance covers windshield replacements), and makes explosions virtually impossible.
    • by CaptainLard (1902452) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @12:56PM (#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 Smidge204 (605297) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @01:01PM (#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.
        =Smidge=

        • Yes cars catch on fire, what your stat doesn't shed any light on is how many of those fires are caused by the fuel system. There are countless other ways to get a car to catch fire.

    • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @12:58PM (#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.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        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.
         

      • Re:vs gasoline cars (Score:4, Interesting)

        by lgw (121541) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @03:22PM (#45029387) Journal

        Car companies and the oil industry obviously have an interest in spreading FUD to foster that effect

        It may come as a shock to you, but Tesla is a car company. What's more, Tesla is an American car company. Let that sink in.

        IMO, the coolest thing about Tesla is it help shake the foundations of those who will only buy an "American" car, and those who will never buy an "American" car. Less nationalism and reverse-nationalism would be good here - especially since brand has little correlation with where a car was actually manufactured.

        You might also be surprised to know that there's barely an "Oil Industry" any more - no one big thinks of themselves that way. There are "energy companies" and "exploration companies" and so on, but everyone is trying to decouple their image from oil. And most energy companies are just as happy if you power your car with electricity that came from the natural gas they sell.

        They've played dirty so far.

        Every urban legend says so, so it must be true! Why, half their budget these days is for buying up patents for water-powered cars to make sure they never see the light of day! Most big established companies "play dirty" when it comes to branding and brand protection and trying to influence fashion in general - par for the course.

    • Especially gasoline cars with fuel tanks in the nose of the car.

      It looks like he ran over a fire hydrant which tore open the front battery pack.

    • by Joce640k (829181)

      obviously gasoline cars never catch on fire

      They obviously do, but you're forgetting that the fire brigade had to use a POWDER extinguisher to put this fire out!! OMG PANIC!!!!

      • I'm almost surprised that they didn't go to this first thing - water isn't good for gasoline fires either, though the sheer amount a fire engine can put out will often put out fires that water would not otherwise be recommended for.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 03, 2013 @12:38PM (#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 @12:39PM (#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 @12:39PM (#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 H0p313ss (811249)

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

      Good thing that never happens.

  • 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.

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @12:50PM (#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.

      • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @01:03PM (#45027419) Homepage

        Firefighters get constant updates on all sorts of technologies. Two months ago, the monthly VFD meeting was all about LiOn batteries - from camcorders to cars. There was a slick video with all sorts of cool GoPro shots. Next month it's carbon composite airplanes like the 787. Those are supposed to be quite entertaining.

        You will notice, in the brief FA video, the firefighter standing there and looking at the scene. They're not rushing around with hoses. It looks like they understand what they're dealing with and acting accordingly.

        And some of us remember the magnesium transmission cases in Volkswagen bugs. Now, those were a PITA to extinguish. The world is full of all sorts of potentially dangerous things, emergency personnel get frequent instruction on how to safely deal with them.

    • by gweihir (88907)

      Energy storage is always dangerous. This would have been far, far more dangerous with gasoline.

  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @12:39PM (#45027095)

    With an Canyonero

    • by Russ1642 (1087959)

      Can you name the truck with four wheel drive,
      smells like a steak and seats thirty-five..

      Canyonero! Canyonero!

      Well, it goes real slow with the hammer down,
      It's the country-fried truck endorsed by a clown!

      Canyonero! (Yah!) Canyonero!
      [Krusty:] Hey Hey

      The Federal Highway comission has ruled the
      Canyonero unsafe for highway or city driving.

      Canyonero!

      12 yards long, 2 lanes wide,
      65 tons of American Pride!

      Canyonero! Canyonero!

      Top of the line in utility sports,
      Unexplained fires are a matter for the courts!

      Canyonero!

  • heh. (Score:5, Funny)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @12:39PM (#45027099)

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

    Only when you consider Toyota's slogan is "Driving excitement". I can think of nothing more exciting than OH GOD OH GOD WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE.

  • by mark-t (151149) <markt@ l y n x.bc.ca> on Thursday October 03, 2013 @12:40PM (#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?

    • by gweihir (88907)

      There is no reason to assume the battery exploded. In fact it would be very hard to make it do that while with gasoline that is relatively easy and the fire is going to spread fast to the while car. Here, the fire seems to be entirely restricted to the motor compartment, no flames in the passenger area at all.

      Also, it is not an electrical fire, but a lithium fire. You cannot put those out, you just put sand on it and wait. Water is at worst going to cause a steam explosion. These firefighters do not know th

      • Except that in TF video, they're just staring at the fire, not putting water on it. They have hoses out but they always do. Besides, there are things OTHER than lithium in the car.

    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      Yeah, and there's lithium batteries. Lithium + Water = Big Explosions. The only useful information here is that fire crews need to be better trained to deal with electric cars.
      • by mark-t (151149)
        I'm just surprised they would have used water at all... it would have been just as problematic with gasoline, since water can't put out a gas fire either.
      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Incorrect, unless you powder the lithium. Otherwise you just make a slightly bigger fire. If you use enough water you can actually put out lithium by cooling it so much. Remember the fire triangle.

    • by firex726 (1188453)

      Since they had to poke holes in the pack to enable them to get the retardant into it; it sounds like it was intact, and was just burning; which you would think a professional Fire Dept would know not to mix Li-Ion battery fires and water.

      • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @01:16PM (#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).

      • by Dare nMc (468959) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @01:45PM (#45028049)

        Li-ion batteries contain no pure lithium, Li-ion doesn't react with water. Only reasons not to use water is because of potential voltages. The water could either conduct back to fire fighters, or as it gets contaminated cause more shorting internal and external to the battery.

    • In a battery-powered situation, I suspect the fact that it's a lithium fire was more relevant. Neither electrical nor light metal fires are a good idea to fight with water; but the efficiency of the battery pack probably didn't improve as it burned, so the fire became increasingly non-electrical and just moved on to burning through all that zesty lithium.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 03, 2013 @12:41PM (#45027113)

    I am going to stick with my gasoline fuelled car. It will never catch fire

  • Not only is there a lot of rain, it's Kent. Coulda been Bellevue, where people in Bentleys would drive by snickering.

  • No. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bmajik (96670) <matt@mattevans.org> on Thursday October 03, 2013 @12:45PM (#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.

    • 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.

      Good to know the drivetrain is safe. I mean, if you're gonna have an accident, eject the most valuable parts, right?
      And who says it was random? Occupants efficiently terminated. Drivetrain available for re-use.

  • Most Pontiac Fieros caught fire on the SIDE of the road without an accidents.

    Vehicles catch on fire! Wow!

    But Tesla is just like everyone else in the auto industry, and if there is something to make safer they should do it.

  • by gweihir (88907) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @12:46PM (#45027185)

    This is restricted to the motor area. A gasoline fire engulfs the whole car and can kill everybody pretty fast. Looks like there would be plenty of time to get people out safely from a Tesla in comparison.

    Face it: There is no really safe way of energy storage. But a well-made lithium battery is orders of magnitude more desirable than highly volatile and very toxic gasoline.

  • by PortHaven (242123) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @12:48PM (#45027203) Homepage

    First, this was a direct puncture by a piece of large metal debris. Not a design failure. The metal object likely caused a short and the resultant fire.

    Second, from a number of articles and reports, Tesla's safety designs worked as planned. Numerous articles noted that the fire was contained in the front section of the vehicle where the impact occurred, and did not shift into the passenger compartment. This = GOOD!!!!

    The firefighters pouring of water on a chemical fire likely exasperated the situation.

    What Tesla should lean from this...

    a) evaluate design to see if the front underguard can be further strengthened for greater resistance to impact and puncture with minimal affect on price and performance.

    b) recognize the benefit of better trained fire departments, sell off some those stocks to found a non-profit with an endowment to help train nationally all fire departments in the handling of electric drive vehicle systems. Namely to utilize chemical extinguishers rather than water.

    c) perhaps evaluate whether a small extinguishing system could be incorporated into the design. (BONUS POINTS)

    a)

    • by sjbe (173966)

      c) perhaps evaluate whether a small extinguishing system could be incorporated into the design. (BONUS POINTS)

      Have to be careful with things like that. It would be VERY easy for competitors to spin that as "Tesla's are so dangerous they need a fire extinguishing system". Stupid argument under the light of day but stupid people and lawmakers (but I repeat myself) are influenced by stupid arguments.

      • Re:Careful (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Todd Knarr (15451) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @01:02PM (#45027405) Homepage

        Or Tesla spins it as "We're incorporating a built-in fire-suppression system, the same as all race cars have had for the last 20 years or so. Why our competitors haven't done so by now,... you'll have to ask them, they're the ones who've been fielding the racing teams using this technology.".

  • They might catch on fire too.
  • There are lots of large metallic objects in the middle of the road. They're called CARS!

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

    by rainwalker (174354) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @12:53PM (#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.

  • As usual, the answer to the question posed in the headline is, "No."

    If this turns out to happen every time they take a bang, it may be their "Pinto Moment." That doesn't seem to happening though.

  • by Jahava (946858) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @01:04PM (#45027439)

    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?

    One thing is clear: Meta-pundits will use this opportunity to stir fears about what pundits will do.

  • by Phoenix666 (184391) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @01:09PM (#45027527)

    I completely agree with the other posters, gasoline cars never catch fire and burn their occupants to death. I'm shocked, shocked that an electric car would burn. Obviously it's a death trap.

    By extension, I'm also horrified by those who suggest we revive zeppelins to manage flight. Don't they know hydrogen burns? Also, jumbo jets never burn. Aviation fuel, I've read, is safe to drink and could never harm anyone. 13 people died awful agonizing deaths on the Hindenburg. Think of the humanity! What's that? 137 people died in a PanAm crash... *yawn* what's on Must-See TV tonight?

  • Clearly, having a single instance of an electric vehicle catching fire after an accident is proof that the whole idea of electric vehicles is faulty.

    Because cars with internal combustion engines have never, ever caught fire.

  • Looks to me like the fire is contained to the "engine" compartment AND the driver/passengers were able to get out without being engulfed in flames. That's pretty damn good engineering. Also consider Toyota Prius batteries appear to be under the passenger [youtube.com] compartment.

  • by v1 (525388) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @01:25PM (#45027753) Homepage Journal

    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.

    Well, I'd call that a very good thing. I would have expected "spraying water on a lithium fire" to have had a spectacular effect. Kudos to Tesla for managing to protect the firefighters from blowing themselves up!

  • by Quila (201335) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @03:20PM (#45029355)

    Although not easily, gasoline cars will catch fire. It's just a product of hauling so much concentrated energy around.

    The big issue is how hard it was for the fire crew to put it out. They can just douse a gasoline-fueled car, and it's out. But they shouldn't have to pierce the battery pack to put out a Tesla.

    Maybe if they put temperature-sensitive dry chemical packs in the battery pack. If it gets too hot (as in the batteries are burning), the packs burst, forcing the chemical everywhere.

The trouble with opportunity is that it always comes disguised as hard work. -- Herbert V. Prochnow

Working...