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.
I think it was poor designs, to locate a large lithium automotive battery so close to the roadway with such light protection. Customers of Chevy Volts, Nissan Leafs, and Toyotas Rav4EV allegedly haven't had any fires from road debris or vehicle accidents; yet Tesla has recently had three.
I think Tesla poorly designed some of its charge connections. Some of the charge connections seem to be not to be robust enough for the amount of current duration. Also the configuration of adapters puts an undue amount of stress on the wall outlets and connectors which can lead to outlet failures, connector failures and fires. Also the design configuration puts a lot of connections close together which allows the concentration of heat and increases the probability of fire. In my opinion they are poor engineering designs that are fire hazards.
What about the Tesla related garage fire in Toronto? The public should know what the fire department investigation found. I would prefer an independent non-bias investigation. What caused the Tesla related garage fire in Toronto? I'm hoping to hear reports from the fire departments investigation, because I don't trust Tesla's "fire investigations", which seem more like coverups.
Why is Tesla Motors dragging its feet on Tesla charger related fire hazard recall? When is Tesla motors going to comply with the recall? It wasn't until people reported the charger problems to the media and government that Tesla declared a recall. Tesla charging systems have been known to be hazardous for about a year, yet the safety hazards have not been fixed.
Tesla Motors manufactures more excuses & hype, then cars. Tesla Motors still has not delivered on the fire hazard recall. Tesla has been dragging its feet on safety and the recall.
There has been at least five significant Tesla related fires.
The most recent Tesla garage fire to hit the news was in Toronto. The car supposedly wasn't even plugged in, so the charging system isn't likely to be a source in that fire.
There has been at least five Tesla fires. Two Teslas caught on fire after only running over road debris. One Tesla caught on fire and EXPLODED after being in an accident in Mexico. There was a Tesla fire in a California garage, that the Tesla charger connection was ruled as a possible source of the fire by the fire department. Recently there was a Tesla garage fire in Toronto, that so far I haven't heard the fire department give a ruling. Arguably there has been scores, possibly hundreds of minor Tesla fires. There has been a plethora of Tesla charge connectors that have overheated, melted and burned. Though many Tesla shills will argue that they are not fire. Categorically and scientifically they are often classified as fire. Rapid oxidation or rapid decomposition from excessive heat is often classified as fire. Like the metaphor; where there is smoke, there is fire.
A few months ago there was a Tesla related garage fire in California that the fire department ruled that the Tesla charging system was a possible source of the fire. The suspect portion of the Tesla charging system that the fire department in California determined was a possible source of the California garage fire, is also suspected in many other Tesla charger reported cases that Tesla charge connections have overheated, melted and burned. Tesla issued a software "fix", however Tesla charge connectors have continued to overheat, melt and burn despite the so-called "fix".
Some customers allege that the charger related software update that is supposed to reduce current when a fault is detected, in some cases actually increases the current. The so-called "fix" has introduced other problems, one of the alleged problems is a safety hazard. One customer claimed that they experienced a glitch that increases current when a fault is detected before the charger related software update. Either way the alleged condition supposedly can dangerously increase the current above user settings.
The Tesla model S. still has defects that make it a fire hazard. Tesla charger connections are still overheating, melting and burning. Tesla batteries are poorly located and poorly protected.
On 01-09-2014 Elon Musk said that replacement adapters that are part of the recall would be mailed out within two weeks. A month later Tesla customers still have not received the replacement adapters that are part of the Tesla model S. recall.
Several people have been injured by faulty Tesla charge connectors. Tesla is big on making promises and hype, but short on delivery. Tesla needs to start making safety a top priority. Tesla needs to stop playing blame games and games with semantics. Tesla needs to stop lying. Tesla needs to be proactive instead of reactive. Tesla is being a follower of technology, rather than a leader. Tesla is a greedy corporation that has a disregard for safety.
The Tesla model S. charger recall is for the vast majority of Tesla model Ss. There is nearly 30,000 Teslas that are part of the recall, that have a potential fire hazard. So far it seems not any customers have been mailed warnings about these fire hazards. Allegedly some customers are only finding out about the recall fire hazards after having failures and then searching the Internet.
The media should do a better job. The vast majority of news coverage on Tesla has been creampuff articles that seem more like advertising then news articles. The media should not give favorable treatment to greedy corporations that skimp on safety. The media should scrutinize Tesla more, instead of shilling for them and treating them with kid gloves.
The news media has done a horrible job covering the Tesla fires and fire hazards. The news media makes it sound like there isn't any Tesla fire hazards. The news media makes it sound like there isn't any problems with Tesla chargers. The news media makes it sound like all of the Tesla charger problems is the fault of wall outlets and house wiring. The news media makes it sound like, Tesla owners have already received replacement adapters under the recall.
The news media should do investigative reporting, instead of shilling for greedy corporations. The news media shouldn't tell lies to inflate stock prices. The media shouldn't be in bed with Tesla. The news media shouldn't be veiled advertising. The news media should be part of the solution, instead of part of the problem. The news media should not be sweeping safety hazards under the carpet.
Is faulty Tesla designs going to have to cause deaths before Tesla, Tesla fan boys, and the news media start taking safety seriously? Even then I suspect some of them will try to play blame games.
If Tesla was proactive and a leader of technology, their products would have been better designed.
The Tesla charge connections have been known to be a fire hazard for about a year. That should have been time for Tesla Motors to recognize the problems and come up with engineering solutions. Instead Tesla has been playing blame games, games of semantics and making token efforts.
Tesla and Tesla fan boys should not be censoring, harassing, threatening, slandering and bullying safety advocates, customers with unsafe defective products, critics, and skeptics. Tesla has a culture that has a disregard for safety.
Allegedly nearly 3% (nearly 900) Tesla charger adapters have been returned and or reported defective.
Is a Tesla in an attached garage going to have to catch fire and burn down a house and result in a death of a family before people wake up and smell the coffee?
In my opinion a thermal fuse may reduce the fire hazard, but still does not fix the underlying condition. Tesla charge connectors that are insufficient for the amount of current and duration.
It is inevitable that electric vehicles will become more popular. That's why these designs need to be improved. As these vehicles become more popular and age, the risk increases.
I agree with a lot of what you say here, Jim5437532 (admittedly, I didn't make it through all your links). More will come out about this fire and about the fires being examined by NHTSA, and we will be there to cover it.
Beyond the issue of volatility - what i have always found disturbing about EVs is their relatively small size. A "Smart Car" does not seem very smart to me - it would have no chance in an accident against the larger vehicles swarming the highways - it wouldn't matter if it blew up if the occupants were smushed. I am glad to see that it looks like some companies are designing larger vehicles.
I think it is kind of hard to say what exactly happened in Toronto as we don't have much information. Though we do know that the battery pack in the Tesla is unharmed. Looking at the damage to the garage, it seems a bit too extreme considering that it did not originate from the battery. Which more then likely means that the cause of the fire was external.
My personal guess is that the lexus near by(in the same garage) may have been leaking and the electrical equipment in the Tesla which just came ignited the gas vapors. Otherwise it is hard to imagine what could have fueled that much damage. But we would probably have to wait for the fire department report.
Though one thing to say about this:
"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."
To this day we have not designed a "safe" engine of any kind, to this day hundreds of thounds of gasoline cars catch on fire every year. We just made it statistically "safe enough". But safety is relative. So far, even with the fires, the Tesla statistically is safer than a gasoline car. As long as they remain such, I don't think there is much issue. Of course things can change at any time and modifications might have to be done even if not out of necessity but simply because it is possible to do so, they probably will. But I don't think it will ever be possible to have a vehicle that is 100% safe. Simply because if you store energy, there is always potential for that energy to be released. But as technology improves, things do get safer and safer.
I agree with your comments 100%. Although electric vehicles are not new to society, some of it's components are using advanced materials and processes which have no lifecycle data history. Therefore, the product is still maturing in those new technological areas. Unfortunately, there exists a group of individuals who fear change and will do everything to discredit new ideas they may not understand. Engineers have the knowledge and creativity to solve problems be it simple or complex. The Tesla fires are not problems but opportunities for them to stretch their imaginations and create solutions they may bridge into other product categories. Also, non-engineers can participate in the prblem solving search for by scouring the internet for clues to assist in correcting the Tesla's fire concerns. Who knows what new industries and technologies can be created if everyone jumps into the pool of opportunity: the water is fine. Very good article Charles!
My comment, "Also, non-engineers can participate in the prblem solving search for by scouring the internet for clues to assist in correcting the Tesla's fire concerns", I just saw the massive list of postings on EV topics covered by Design News. Again, their is wealth of information available for the enterpreneurial minded inventor to participate in solving the Tesla fires.
Allegedly the fire department indicated that the fire seems to have started at the front of the Tesla. Around the frunk "engine area".
The Lexus seems to have little or no damage. Firefighters were able to push out the Lexus. If the Lexus was leaking a flammable liquid, it should have had more damage to the Lexus.
The damage seems to suggest that the origin of the fire was the Tesla or the garage near the front of the Tesla. I suspect something failed in the 12 V or HV systems of the Tesla. Perhaps the 12 V battery, wiring, AC or accessories. It looks like the vehicle has some aftermarket modifications, so it is possible that an aftermarket add-on may be the source of the fire. So there is a remote possibility that the fire started within the Tesla, but it might not be the fault of Tesla motors.
I think it's important to determine if this fire is because of a design or manufacturing fault, which could be a big deal, and could be a big threat to other Tesla owners. Or if the fault would be an aftermarket add-on, then most likely it shouldn't reflect badly on Tesla.
If the fire is from a Tesla design or manufacturing fault, that could mean there are tens of thousands of Tesla vehicles with another fire hazard. If it is the fault of a poorly installed aftermarket add-on, then that would be very isolated and likely reflect on the installer, not Tesla.
I'm interested in and hoping to hear what the fire department report says. I don't trust Tesla's "fire investigations". Tesla already has a history of trying to pin the rap on house wiring and outlets, when poorly faulty Tesla charge connectors have been at fault.
Tesla allegedly sent seven of its own employees to investigate the fire in Toronto. If they thought they could pin the blame on the Lexus or the garage, they would be on their soap boxes.
Although there are no records available from NHTSA on the safety of automobiles in the beginning, I'm sure that if we compared the safety of gasoline powered cars in the beginning to the safety of EVs at their beginning, we'd find EVs much safer.
The industry is growing and changing. I agree that fixes will be tweaks instead of majour changes. I can't wait for the hype and hyperbole to quiet down.
@Jim - The fire deparment said that the when they got there, the fire was in the frunk area. But there was no mention of where the fire started.
We have no photos or any indications on the condition of the Lexus. And I never mentioned a leak involving a liquid spill. What burns is not the gasoline itself but the vapors. A possibility could be that the electrical system ignited the vapor leak. This is actually the #2 most common reason for gasoline cars fire, a electrical short ignites the leaking gas vapors.
As far as pinning it on the Lexus or anything is a bit complex because to have a case you need proof and standing. Which requires an investigation. On top of that your kind of tied down to the owner's time. In the case of the CA fire, it was easy to tell by the fact that the wall was damaged but the car and the charging cable was not on what the cause was. The fact that the outlet was installed illegaly also contributes to it. But in this case there are too many variables to account for. Due to all the media attention they have been getting, I doubt they want to put things in the limelight until they are 100% positive.
Allegedly the Toronto fire service determined that the origin of the fire was the Tesla (not the Lexus), though at the time there was no determination what specifically in the Tesla started the fire or how.
Your Lexus gasoline vapor leak as origin hypothesis doesn't have evidence supporting it. Quite the contrary. If there was a vapor leak from the Lexus that was the source, then there should have been an explosion. If there was a gasoline vapor leaking from the Lexus, the owner would have likely noticed it. The timeline by the witness would suggest that there wasn't time for Lexus gasoline vapors to be the source of the Tesla fire.
What happens when accumulated gasoline vapors ignite in an enclosed area? A fire or an explosion?
The publicized photographic evidence suggests that there was no explosion and that the origin was at or near the Tesla, not the Lexus.
So far the investigation findings seem to indicate that the fire originated in the Tesla. The question is what part of the Tesla was the source of a fire? How? Why? Was it a design or manufacturing fault? Was it the fault of after market installation or an aftermarket device? Was it operator error? Was it arson?
I think the most likely cause, is something electrical in the Tesla.
Tesla is trying to sweep the fire under the carpet, not put it in the limelight. Tesla will likely continue to try to keep it as quiet as possible unless, they can figure out some way that they think they can pin the blame someplace else or otherwise spin it to their benefit.
As far as the garage fire in California. The fire department ruled that the Tesla charge system was a possible source of the fire. The Tesla charge system was burned from the UMC module to the wall outlet. This is the same part of the Tesla charger connection that is known to overheat, melt and burn. The Tesla charge connections allegedly have almost a 3% failure rate. Nearly all of the Tesla model Ss have been recalled for these faulty connectors. Allegedly nearly 900 of these connectors have failed. Tesla charge connectors have overheated, melted and burned when there was no sign of overheating at the wall outlet or in the house wiring.
House wiring also is a possible cause in the California fire. There was no permit, but that doesn't mean that the fault was the wiring or wall outlet.
Some cars are more reliable than others, but even the vehicles at the bottom of this year’s Consumer Reports reliability survey are vastly better than those of 20 years ago in the key areas of powertrain and hardware, experts said this week.
As it does every year, Consumers Union recently surveyed its members on the reliability of their vehicles. This year, it collected data on approximately 1.1 million cars and trucks, categorizing the members’ likes and dislikes, not only of their vehicles, but of the vehicle sub-systems, as well.
A few weeks ago, Ford Motor Co. quietly announced that it was rolling out a new wrinkle to the powerful safety feature called stability control, adding even more lifesaving potential to a technology that has already been very successful.
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