Skip to comments.Hard to Take the German Absolution of Tesla Fires Seriously
Posted on 12/05/2013 2:31:19 PM PST by jazusamo
Following incidents in Washington state, Mexico andTennessee, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced it would probe fires that occurred recently over a six week period in Tesla Motors electric Model S.
And this week, as revealed in a Detroit News story, the NHTSA looks like theyre serious at least more serious than Germanys transportation safety authority.
Why bring up Germany? Because as the regulatory heat bears down in the U.S. on Tesla and high-profile CEO Elon Musk, they have trotted out the Eastern Europe nation to demonstrate that theyve been absolved of any culpability in the fires. The media that has mostly fawned over the electric automaker helpfully amplified the development, which certainly Musk welcomed. He even got a slight recovery in the company stock price as a result.
On Monday Tesla posted a press release that claimed the company received an inquiry from the German Federal Motor Transport Authority about the three fires. While the NHTSA seems intent on conducting a thorough investigation (Ill get to those details momentarily), the Germans have already wrapped up their inquiry! The result: After Tesla provided data and additional information and the Germans reviewed Teslas responses to their inquiries, they determined that no manufacturer-related defects could be found. Therefore, no further measures under the German Product Safety Act are deemed necessary.
Tesla posted a copy of the letter from the German Transport Authority which is addressed to what appears to be the companys local legal counsel with the translation into English in the press release. Four things beg for explanation:
Compare that to what the US NHTSA is asking for. As the Detroit News reported Tuesday, the safety agency has requested that Tesla turn over detailed records of all consumer complaints, field reports, warranty claims and property damage claims related to the fires.
Describe in detail all possible consequences to the vehicle from an impact to the subject component that damages the battery, wrote NHTSA vehicle integrity chief D. Scott Yon. Describe in detail how these possible consequences were addressed in the design of the (Model S) and the limits of that design to prevent damage to the propulsion battery, stalling and fires.
The newspaper reported that Yon also asked for the results of all Teslas tests, studies, and investigations to review the battery fires and the alleged defect, and information about whether Tesla made any changes to the Model S to address the possible defect of roadway debris sparking fires in the battery packs. He also wants detailed records of vehicles at the time of the incidents, owner contact information, and all communication to owners or regional officers that the company plans to issue in the next four months.
The letter was dated November 27, and Tesla has until January 14 to respond. Thats about 50 days just to gather the information more than twice as long as it took the Germans to collect, analyze and conclude their inquiry that cleared Tesla.
Tesla has carefully controlled information thats been released about the fires, including statements from the Model S owners. For the most part media reports have derived from these. It makes you wonder if there is some sort of non-disclosure agreement between the company and its vehicle owners.
For example, in early October shortly after the first fire in Kent, Wash. Musk posted an essay on Teslas blog that explained how the Model S struck a large metal object that caused damage.
A curved section that fell off a semi-trailer was recovered from the roadway near where the accident occurred and, according to the road crew that was on the scene, appears to be the culprit, Musk explained. The geometry of the object caused a powerful lever action as it went under the car, punching upward and impaling the Model S with a peak force on the order of 25 tons. Only a force of this magnitude would be strong enough to punch a 3-inch diameter hole through the quarter inch armor plate protecting the base of the vehicle.
Maybe so, but for all the physical explanations Musk has tried to present, no photos of the large metal object have been produced. Nor are there any pictures that are reasonably findable on the Web, at least of the tow hitch that was accused of causing the Model S fire in Tennessee. In such a hotly scrutinized case youd think Musk would be parading the evidence if it existed, but he hasnt.
In the same blog post Musk went to great lengths to argue a conventional gasoline powered car, in the same circumstances, could have experienced a far worse fate.
A typical gasoline car only has a thin metal sheet protecting the underbody, leaving it vulnerable to destruction of the fuel supply lines or fuel tank, which causes a pool of gasoline to form and often burn the entire car to the ground, he wrote.
But the crash data doesnt support that. As Justin Hyde of Yahoo!s automotive Web site Motoramic wrote in early November, Even though it has fewer electric cars on the road than its competitors (such as the Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf), none have reported similar fires after crashes. And while liquid-fueled vehicles suffer about 170,000 such fires every year, federal data show they take place in only 0.1 percent of all crashes.
Teslas control freakishness is also reflected in how the Model S owners who were fire victims. Has any independent journalist interviewed them? Below Musks blog post was a portion of an email exchange between Teslas vice president for sales and service and Rob Carlson, the Washington driver. The VPs missive came off as a carefully crafted (lawyered?) explanation of how the fire occurred and that the Model Ss safety protections operated correctly. In reply, Carlson supported Teslas response to the incident and said, I am still a big fan of your car and look forward to getting back into one. Then he revealed that he is an investor in Tesla so certainly a critical response on his part would not have helped the value of the shares he owns!
While not exactly tanking, Musk likely felt some anxiety (and investor pressure) when the companys stock dropped from almost $200 earlier this year to about $120 the last couple of weeks, after the fires. Publicly Musk has said Teslas share price was overpriced anyway (hes right), but at the same time, what executive wants to see a rapid drop like hes seen? Not a moment too soon, this week he discovered a way to turn the German inquiry of the Model S fires into a Wall Street bump the stock is up to almost $139 this morning.
As for the American investigation, time and a serious examination will tell whether Tesla needs to revisit its Model S design or not. Before the fires NHTSA still gave it a top safety rating, which seemed more like it was joining the irrational exuberance party rather than an accurate evaluation. The signs point to the agency taking this a lot more seriously than the Germans did, but then again, this is the Obama administration were talking about, which has relentlessly protected and subsidized the electric vehicle industry.
Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center and publishes CarolinaPlottHound.com , an aggregator of North Carolina news.
Tesla Motors. Yet another BHO boondoggle, because he can.
Germany is an Eastern European country with lax regulatory controls? LOL.
Ford, FR poster child, has taken 12x the money that Tesla has from BHO administration.
Unlike Ford, Tesla paid its loan back in full with interest.
10 years ago nothing.
Now Tesla has 6k employees and a market cap of $17 Billion.
How could Ford be a FR poster child?
It’s UAW (at least in the United States)
Can’t be, can’t be, for Consumer Reports is telling us that the Tesla is the finest, bestest, wonderfulest motor vehicle they’ve ever tested.
The title is a little misleading, he said this in the article also: "I would certainly back some increase on the tax credit"
Germany is an Eastern European country? Who knew!
WHAT are you talking about? Ford was NOT bailed out by the govt!
Got your head stuck up some Japan Inc. product’s tailpipe?
Thanks jazusamo. Consumer Reports’ car issue was out at the warehouse club (presumbably everywhere) and the cover blurb was that the latest Tesla is the best car they’ve ever reviewed.
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