By now, most followers of the electric car market know that another Tesla Model S caught fire in early February. The blaze happened in a homeowner’s garage in Toronto. After parking the car, the owner left his garage. Moments later, the smoke detector blared, the fire department was called, and the car was ruined. To date, no one knows why.
Within days, though, three predictable things happened: Media outlets reported the story, electric car proponents complained about the coverage, and electric car non-believers cited the fire as one more reason why EVs are doomed.
None of that surprises anyone, of course. The same news-anger-doom cycle has been repeating itself for about two years, every time an electric car catches fire.
Maybe it’s time to get a grip. For some it may be hard to believe, but the decision to cover or not cover an electric car fire isn’t typically an emotional one. It’s a tough choice. EV technology is still new to a degree. An unknown to many, it's costly, current, and under study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Truth be told, EV proponents are just as interested in this subject as the detractors. If you don’t believe that, look at the Tesla Motors online forums. Commenters there, most of whom are true believers, are buzzing about the latest Model S fire. They too want to know what happened.
At some point we’ll all find out. NHTSA might decide that the Model S needs a thicker armor plate, a different cooling system, some other kind of design tweak.
But if there is a change, it will be a tweak. It won’t be a huge fix. Nor will it be a sign that EV batteries are inherently unsafe. Remember, gasoline is far more energetic than lithium-ion chemistry, as is jet fuel. Yet every day, engineers successfully design safe cars that burn gasoline. They design safe planes that burn jet fuel. They design safe machines that burn coal, hydrogen, and even uranium. In all cases, they take a package of energy, figure out how to use it in a productive way, and then build in safeguards.
There’s no reason they can’t do the same with electric car batteries. Maybe the safeguards need to be strengthened. Doing so may add cost, but it can be done, easily.
To be sure, pure electric cars face challenges ahead. Battery energy density is still low and cost is high. Those are real problems. But the miniscule number of battery fires that have occurred to date shouldn’t cause an issue. The news coverage can and should continue, but the anger and doom need to be ratcheted down a few notches.
Engineers will fix this problem. That’s what engineers do.
skk "Sometime after he left there was a small fire which was put out with a handheld fire extinguisher with no damage to the passenger compartment."
1: The Tesla that crashed burned and exploded in Mexico, the fire was not put out with a handheld fire extinguisher. The video of the Tesla fire and explosion in Mexico, shows a fireman putting out the fire with a heavy-duty firehose. The fire seems to first intensify as it was first hit by water, before cooling down and slowing down the reaction and putting out the fire.
2: Your assertions that there was no damage to the passenger compartment is also false. The video shows that some of the fire reached to the passenger compartment. The photos of the aftermath also show that the passenger compartment had some fire damage.
3: The fire was not small. The Tesla fire was a huge inferno. At times the fire appeared to be about 30 to 40 feet high.
If you're willing to settle for a Tesla, that's your choice. My standards are much higher.
If Tesla really was such a great vehicle, you wouldn't resort to fabrications to try to bolster its reputation.
Tesla's have a much better savety record then ICE cars. 5 years worth of cars in use and 0 fatalaties or serious injurys. Is there any other car manufacture that can claim that?
Compare the recent crash of a Porsche that claimed Paul Walker. Flat level straight road in perfect weather at mid day, no traffic, experienced race car driver in the drivers seat, car went out of control at 80-90 mph and hit a light pole and a tree, car burst into flames and killed both occupants despite multiple fire extinguishers trained on the car which had no effect of the gasoline fire.
In the Tesla Model S fine in Mexico the accident happed at 3AM in the dark at a speed of "more then 100 mph", the road dead ended in a round about and the car smashed through the concrete block wall, went through a chain link fence and then went head on into a tree. The driver jumped out unhurt and got a ride home. Sometime after he left there was a small fire which was put out with a handheld fire extinguisher with no damage to the passenger compartment.
I don't know about you but I would much rather be in the Tesla.
As for the two garage fires, the first one was a fire of the garage wiring which was of inadaquate size for current rating of the outlet and the wiring was not in conduit. There was no fire in the car. As for the fire in Canada what is know is that the fire did not involve the battery.
300 deaths have been attributed to the GM ignition switch alone and you are concerned about the fact that in high speed sccidents that would not have been survivable in another car that there was a small fire afterward?
You have to consider that in the two US accidents that the battery underneath probably either saved the driver and passengers life or saved them from severe injury by keeping the steel beam and the tow hitch from penentrating into the passenger compartment.
Maybe what we need is a requirement that ICE cars be similarly armored on the underside?
I just thought I'd throw in a curve ball here, this morning about 20km from where I live there was an accident with an ICE car and a family of 4 died because it burst into flames before they could get out. I don't know enough of the details to shed light on the validity in reference to any Tesla fires, but just thought I would flag this.
Tesla uses lithium batteries that are more likely to catch fire and explode after being punctured than gasoline tanks. This is the real world, not Hollywood.
"Tesla fires have been statistically less than ICE fires. Surely you should putting more anlyasis into ICE fires, since A. There are a lot more of them B. They are more likely to catch fire."
Other reasons that you omitted for gasoline vehicles having more fires. It's some of the reasons that it is unfair and irrational the way you Tesla fan boys compare apples to oranges.
C: Gasoline cars generally have a lot more miles on them.
D: Gasoline cars generally are much older.
Compare apples to apples:
Tesla are more likely to have traction battery fires and explosions then other electric automobiles.
"The danger of a lithium based cells depends on chemistry. Cobalt based cells (used in laptops, cell phones) are very volatile. Iron Phosphate batteries, which almost all electric cars use are relatively safe. I've seen crush tests and nail embedment tests where the cell temperature doesn't get over 120oC. Tesla also space out their cells to help prevent themal runaway."
It seems as if you might be trying to deny that Tesla uses cobalt and it's lithium batteries. If you're trying to deny that Tesla uses cobalt in its lithium batteries, please source your information with CREDIBLE sources.
Allegedly according to Tesla Chief Technology Officer JB Straubel Tesla batteries use cobalt and other toxic substances in their lithium batteries. http://www.dailyfinance.com/2014/02/09/will-battery-recycling-help-tesla-motors-massive-s/
"Iron Phosphate batteries, which almost all electric cars use are relatively safe."
It seems as if you might be trying to imply Tesla uses iron phosphate.
Tesla uses a type of lithium battery. LiNiCoAlO2 (aka NCA)
"Tesla also space out their cells to help prevent themal runaway."
Didn't work, did it? Three caught fire. At least one exploded.
You are repeating Tesla's talking points spammed all over the Internet. Before Tesla even had battery fires, I warned that their battery designs were dangerous. Tesla was wrong, I was right. Some of their precautions may have reduced some of the threats, but there battery chemistry and designs are still dangerous. It was reckless of them to locate a battery that is so poorly protected. so close to the ground.
At least three Teslas have had thermal runaways after an accident and only running over road debris. How many other electric automobiles have been made? How many of of their traction batteries caught fire and exploded in real world use after running over road debris or having an accident? Statistically Tesla batteries are more likely to catch fire and explode after running over road debris or having an accident; then other electric automobiles.
Jim, the bee in your bonnet is making you almost rabbidly irrational.
1. Tesla fires have been statistically less than ICE fires. Surely you should putting more anlyasis into ICE fires, since A. There are a lot more of them B. They are more likely to catch fire.
2. The danger of a lithium based cells depends on chemistry. Cobalt based cells (used in laptops, cell phones) are very volatile. Iron Phosphate batteries, which almost all electric cars use are relatively safe. I've seen crush tests and nail embedment tests where the cell temperature doesn't get over 120oC. Tesla also space out their cells to help prevent themal runaway.
Opponents are always going to play with such vulnerabilities to their benefit. Proponents should be careful, on the other hand, in criticizing media for reporting the news. Fire incidents are always reported everywhere irrespective of the cause. There is no point in becoming cynical about the motives of the media. The better course would be for proponents to increase pressure on the manufacturers to improve the technology and prevent such accidents from happening.
Tesla Motors’ $35,000, 200-mile electric car may not revolutionize the auto industry by itself, but it could serve as a starting point for a long, steady climb to a day when half of the world’s vehicles will be plug-ins.
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