At last count, there were in excess of 250 million registered vehicles on U.S. roads. Of those many millions, 172,500 gas-powered cars were destroyed by fire last year. That equates to one in every 1,450. Between 2006 and 2010, a gas-powered car had a fire-related incident every three-and-a-half minutes, with those fires killing four people per week.
Why am I telling you this? Mostly due to the sensationalist coverage of the fires that have occurred in Tesla‘s Model S sedan. To quote Tesla CEO Elon Musk, “the three Model S fires, which only occurred after very high-speed collisions and caused no serious injuries or deaths, received more national headlines than all 250,000+ gasoline fires combined”.
Since launching in 2012, Tesla has sold an estimated 19,000 Model S’s. In the year it’s been available, three models have caught fire. That’s one in every 6,333 cars. Exactly zero people have been killed, or even injured in those fires. Why, then, have they been so widely reported in print and online?
People want the Model S to fail. Those who won’t accept the all-electric sedan — who staunchly refuse to drive anything other than gas-powered cars, who don’t believe that electric cars are the solution to our addiction to oil, who simply enjoy seeing something fail — are hanging on to every Model S incident. A fire in the American-designed and American-made Model S? Shock! Horror! It must be faulty!
It isn’t. Of the three, two were caused by the cars hitting debris on the road, piercing the battery packs that line the floor of the vehicle. These packs are shielded from impact — that debris was able to pierce through both times is due to the size of the debris and the speed of travel. The third fire was due to driver error causing a crash, which led to the fire. In all occasions, the drivers and passengers were unharmed, and able to exit the vehicle, with the fire contained within the battery packs by Tesla’s firewalls and safeguards. As for the drivers? All have expressed an interest in owning another Tesla to replace their destroyed car.
For Tesla, however, the fires were a perfect storm of media controversy. Occurring in just six weeks, the fires cast a shadow — however small — over the reliability and safety of their car. CEO and founder Elon Musk refuses to let such lingering doubts lie in the minds of buyers, so took to the Tesla blog to announce a three-pronged strategy to prevent future fires from occurring. It involves:
All three together should, Musk hopes, assuage any remaining fears over the Model S’s safety.