Electronics & Test

Tesla to NHTSA: Investigate Our Model S Fires

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naperlou   11/20/2013 9:02:01 AM
Musk talks a good game.  On the other hand, there are a lot fewer Tesla vehicles than there are ICE cars.  As I wrote in a comment to a previous article about this, Musk's characterization of the statistics is misleading, at best.  You have to look at cars built to the same standard, for example.  That means current model cars.  There are plenty of cars on the road that are older. 

That aside, I wonder how many "regular" cars experience a breach of the floor from metal road debris.  I have not heard of any.  That does not mean that there are none.  I just wonder why we don't hear more about it.  I once hit a piece of metal on a road and it broke a rim, as well as destroying the tire.  I put on the spare and got a new rim (and tire) and that was that. 

One other thing to remember, the lithium ion battery fire is much hotter and goes faster than a fire from gasoline.  It is a different chemistry and different configuration.

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Re: really?
LetoAtreidesII   11/20/2013 10:12:51 AM
I agree, lets compare the last 2 years of mercedes or BMW to the Tesla and see what the fire #'s are.  With a Mercedes you have a similar class of car and driver.

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Re: really?
tekochip   11/20/2013 10:41:27 AM


I know of one case in particular that happened in our own state.  That would be the Willis family van that had its gas tank pierced when it ran over a truck tailight assembly.  The fire killed six children and the resulting scandel exposed Governor George Ryan's license for bribes policy and sent him to prison.  I'm sure there have been other cases, but that one certainly received a great deal of press.

Charles Murray
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Re: really?
Charles Murray   11/20/2013 7:05:23 PM
I agree, naperlou. It's only fair to compare apples to apples. And the apple in this case is a brand new luxury car. I wonder what the numbers would be for a six-month BMW, Mercedes, Audi or Lexus.

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plenty of fires for all
RogueMoon   11/21/2013 9:12:33 AM
I'm glad to see an official review of the situation.  The title suggests that Tesla asked for it?  I'm not sure that the future of electric vehicles is at stake (while lumping global warming into the mix), but if the NHTSA wants to investigate the Tesla S fires, hey?, so be it.

There's an equal chance of any vehicle (ICE or electric) encountering a large piece of garbage on the road and getting a wallop on the underside.  The issue is what happens after that event.   Comparing stored energies is not the whole story.  

A gas tank is an unpressurized fluid vessel that can often take a dent or even a puncture, but only sometimes creating a fire if, and only if, there is an ignition source created and sustained at an area that happens to have a flammable mixture which also doesn't always happen.

A battery has stored potential between many many cells.  Shorting a group of them together by smashing some together at the source of the wallop often gives you an energy release.  There are safeguards in the battery designs and the arrangement is carefully chosen, but the physics leading to catastrophic energy release are very different.  This has to be considered.

The funny thing is that for electric cars to improve to better compete with ICE vehicles they will have to INCREASE their energy density, meaning more stored energy in the same or smaller package.  By a factor of 10 according to Mr. Musk.

This is only a hiccup in the course of proving out a new technology on the road dealing with real issues of real road conditions.  It is by these trials by everyday situations does any vehicle become a proven and trusted design.

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Re: really?
Watashi   11/21/2013 9:45:30 AM
You are correct – the Tesla folks need a course in statistics.  2 of VERY FEW cars on the road is statistically more significant than say 100's of the 10's or 100's of millions of conventional vehicles that have graced the same byways.  It also doesn't help that a specific failure mode is repeated.

Mr. Musk sounds like a real environmental zealot in his statements.  I don't know if he is really an activist or if he just understands that appeals to the market niche for his vehicles.  Either way; it is not good for his future.  Brash statements full of alarmist buzz words and a little dishonesty don't sell very well to the broader public. Startups in the relatively young electronics industry can get away with eccentricity, but people expect more maturity from car manufacturers. 

Who cares if you are buying a couple hundred dollar device from a nut that breaks a year later?  When you put down BIG money on a product that you have realistic expectations of being able to use for decades; you expect more than an attitude and an excuse.

If EVs are to have a chance in the market, they need to be seen as just another car with some very novel features.  The advantages/disadvantages of electric vehicles aside, the market needs some level of comfort with the vehicle to have confidence that it will meet their expectations as a mode of transport.  Like it or not, these expectations have been shaped by a century of ICE vehicle use and improvement.  ...and honestly, the bar is set pretty high!  

Except for GM :)

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Model S fires
Davek3gau   11/21/2013 10:12:00 AM
I am not trying to make excuses for EVs but I wonder what would happen if ICE gas tanks were put on the bottom of the cars in the same positions the EV batteries are typically put? 

Most gas tanks that I know of are to the rear of the vehicle and pretty well protected by other metal parts of the vehicle in front of them.  Unfortunately the batteries require much more space than a gas tank and are a whole lot heavier so have to be put low and spread out over more of the bottom area of the vehicle so are easier to be struck by road debris.

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Re: really?
GTOlover   11/21/2013 10:12:14 AM
Watashi, Mr. Musk has multiple businesses all dependant on government money. Either in the form of tax credits/subsidies, loans, and grants. So he is simply spinning the political correctness line for self-preservation. He may actually believe it, but he is also running a business.

In the end, I think the NHTSA investigation will not reveal anything dramatic and will make minimalist recommendations to negate any of the public fear of EVs. We may even be told how the "experts" agree that EVs are the safest cars on the planet.

Be careful about bashing GM, my beloved GTO is a GM :)

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Tesla "fix"
radio-active   11/21/2013 10:28:06 AM
I find it interesting that the "fix" is to raise the car's ride height via the electronic suspension at highway speeds. This will no doubt decrease driving range due to increased wind resistance and turbulence under the car. Quite a band-aid.

It's only a matter of time before some such incident so badly damages the battery that the car is immediately disabled from low battery voltage or no voltage. It'll be very interesting to learn how well the vehicle and occupants fare in such a situation. Will the car still warn the driver? Will he be able to stop it, or steer it, or even unlock the doors and get out?

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Re: really?
btwolfe   11/21/2013 10:39:21 AM
naperlou, I'm not sure how you can say a lithium ion battery fire "goes faster". The lithium reaction with water certainly burns hotter, but speed is affected by multiple factors. Care to elaborate?

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