In 2013, two crashes allegedly sparked fires in Tesla Model S luxury electric sedans. Those fires spurred an investigation by federal safety regulators, but ultimately, only minor changes to the cars’ underbody were deemed necessary. Now, concerns over the fire safety of the luxury electric-cars have been renewed following the fiery crash of a stolen Tesla Model S in Los Angeles.
The crash occurred over the July 4th weekend after a man stole a Model S from a Tesla service center and led police on a high-speed chase. That chase ultimately ended in high impact crash; the vehicle struck a steel pole. The force of the impact split the vehicle in half and ignited the vehicle’s lithium ion battery. Although he initially survived the accident, the driver ultimately died from injuries sustained in the accident. It is not, however, known at this time whether the fatal injuries were related to fire rather than the impact of the crash.
While these crashes certainly grab headlines given the high profile of Tesla Motors, it does not appear that electric vehicles are any less safe than gasoline-powered vehicles. As the Insurance Journal has noted, in 2012, there were 172,500 vehicle fires in the United States resulting in 300 deaths, but none of the deaths involved electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles. This is likely due to the fact that battery fires have a longer induction period than gasoline fires. In other words, a lithium battery fire takes longer to get going – so the drivers have a better chance of escaping the vehicles.
It is notable that Model S does have a 5-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Nevertheless, the fire issues certainly have had an affect on Tesla’s stock price. Share prices took a 2.9 percent hit following the most recent accident.