Tesla's Lithium-Ion Battery Catches Fire

Electric car fires get all the headlines, but conventional cars can ignite too

2 min read
Tesla's Lithium-Ion Battery Catches Fire

Tesla seems to make news at every turn. Most of this year's headlines about Tesla's Model S have been high praise, but this week, one Model S was in the spotlight for another reason: catching fire.

On Tuesday, a Tesla driver in Washington State drove over some metal debris on the highway, according to a report in The New York Times. The driver turned off the freeway and then the car caught fire. Elizabeth Jarvis-Shean, a spokesperson from Tesla, confirmed that one of the 16 modules that make up the Model S battery pack caught fire after direct impact with a large metal object. Earlier this year, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Tesla Model S a 5-star safety rating (its highest) in all categories.

The video below captures the fire, in which a man in a passing car exclaims, "oh, that's a Tesla dude!" (Warning: video contains coarse language.)

“No one was injured, and the sole occupant had sufficient time to exit the vehicle safely and call the authorities,” Jarvis-Shean said in a statement on Wednesday. “Subsequently, a fire caused by the substantial damage sustained during the collision was contained to the front of the vehicle thanks to the design and construction of the vehicle and battery pack.”

After the fire was extinguished by the fire department, it reignited and was “difficult to extinguish,” a fire department official told The New York Times.

Lithium-ion batteries, the primary choice for electric vehicles, are known for their potential to catch fire, although the incidences are rare. Last year, a Chevy Volt caught fire a few days after being crash tested. The problems are not limited to cars. Earlier this year, Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner was grounded after fires in the plane’s lithium-ion battery.

Although fires involving lithium-ion batteries receive the bulk of the headlines, there are far more fires involving gas stations and conventional combustion engines each year. Between 2004 and 2008, the U.S. National Fire Protection Association reported an average of about 5000 fires per year in and around gas stations. From 2006 to 2010, there were roughly 152 000 automobile fires annually, on average.

Even if fires in electric vehicles are relatively rare, it is still a black mark on an emerging industry. Tesla was named the Motor Trend 2013 Car of the Year, but its stock price was trading at about $173 on Thursday after opening at $190.15 on Wednesday.

Tesla said it is investigating the fire.


Photo: AJ Gill/YouTube

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