Actually, there are good reasons for coverage of this subject: To much of the public, electric cars are still a curiosity. And the public has become especially curious since the Boeing overheating incidents. Also, comparisons to gasoline-burning cars aren't completely appropriate, according to the MIT Technology Review: "...these figures are really comparing apples to oranges," the Review stated in November. "Only four percent of vehicle fires are caused by collisions -- the rest are largely the result of mechanical and electrical failures, which isn't surprising when you remember that a large fraction of the cars on the road are old and wearing out." These points could be debated on both sides, but the debate needs to be visible, not behind the scenes. Put it another way: If the press sat on the Tesla stories and didn't report them, how would the car-buying public react?
naperlou - The reason we don't hear about fires in other cars (by the way, we've had 4 this past week in the SE Wisconsin area) is the same reason we hear about working conditions at the Foxcon factory where iPhones are made. Readership - readership - readership. Tesla, like Apple, is at the leading edge of the technology. Makes no difference that working conditions at Android factories is much worse, it only matters in people's minds what is happening at the hot leading companies.
You're right about Tesla's need for government money and environmental credits, GTOlover. Although it doesn't get a lot of attention, the credits that Tesla gets for selling ZEVs is substantial. The LA Times did an article on this, pointing out that Tesla can get up to $35,000 per car, in addition to the state and federal money they get. http://articles.latimes.com/2013/may/05/business/la-fi-electric-cars-20130506
@naperlou: I disagree that Musk talks a good game. I remember from n argumentation and debate class I took a long time ago, that the weakest possible arguements involved a, "Look at the other guy" statement. What difference does it make if ICE vehicles can become involved in fires when the discussion is about a Tesla fire. He should make his arguement solely about the Tesla and how safe it is. We already know about ICE vehicles and hundreds of millions of us have daily experience with them.
I can't conclude anyting about the speed of lithium fire based on that article. It says "they were incinerated" but that's just an inflamatory (pun unavoidable) term for burn. Given that the accident was from a 180kph collision, they were probably in no shape to exit the vehicle quickly anyway.
My experience with lithium is that it burns hot, but slowly. I used to play with pigs of the stuff as a kid, so I have some empiracle knowlege of it's burning characteristics. BTW, don't ask how I got the material. Anyway, it's the heat of the reaction when lithum is mixed with water and the resulting hydrogen gas that's the real danger. If you don't vent the gas, you're going to have a serious problem.
I am also concerned that the Tesla batteries require active measures to cool them. They are made up of large numbers of small cells each of which must be individually monitored and controlled. This is probably part of the issue with cost and weight as well. Compared to fuel in an ICE, this is crazy. So far, electric vehicles have been sold to higher end buyers in small numbers. Look at the history of autos on the road and should appreciate my concern. As a vehicle gets older one tends to not fix things or to do it oneself. Since it is not a classic and is always going to be eclipsed by newer models, this approach itself could be a recipe for disaster. But I digress.
I am not sure that I have answered your question in general, and I have not found a good source of information. As Tesla points out, the battery has armor built into it which may account for the ability of passengers to get out. This is good, since the fires were difficult for firefighters to put out and in the latest case, at least, melted pavement.
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