UPDATED: NHTSA Investigating Tesla Model S Fires

UPDATED: NHTSA Investigating Tesla Model S Fires
Image: Tesla
April 3, 2014

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has launched an investigation into model year 2013 Tesla Model S vehicles following two reported fires. This investigation affects an estimated 13,108 vehicles.

NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) is aware of two incidents occurring on U.S. public highways in which the subject vehicles caught fire after an undercarriage strike with metallic roadway debris. The resulting impact damage to the propulsion battery tray (baseplate) initiated thermal runaway.

In each incident, the vehicle's battery monitoring system provided escalating visible and audible warnings, allowing the driver to execute a controlled stop and exit the vehicle before the battery emitted smoke and fire.

Based on these incidents, NHTSA is opening this preliminary evaluation to examine the potential risks associated with undercarriage strikes on model year 2013 Tesla Model S vehicles.

Upon the conclusion of this initial investigation, NHTSA investigators will decide what, if any, additional actions need to be taken. This could include a safety recall of all affected Tesla Model S vehicles.

UPDATE: This investigation is closed. A defect trend has not been identified, and no recall will be issued.

In a March 2014 meeting with ODI, Tesla stated it would conduct a free-of-charge service campaign to modify the Model S vehicles in question by adding three new components to the vehicle's undercarriage to protect the battery. Testing conducted by Tesla demonstrated that these modifications improved protection from road debris impacts. ODI believes impacts with road debris are normal and foreseeable. In this case, Tesla's revision of vehicle ride height and addition of increased underbody protection should reduce both the frequency of underbody strikes and the resultant fire risk.

The closing of the investigation does not constitute a finding by NHTSA that a safety-related defect does not exist, and the agency reserves the right to take further action if warranted by new circumstances.