Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk announced last night that Tesla has not only requested the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration fully investigate three separate incidents of Model S Sedans catching fire, but has extended its warranty policy for all Tesla customers to cover damage due to a fire, even if due to driver error.
The announcement was made by Musk in an official blog post posted on the company website, in which he reiterated Tesla’s exemplary safety record compared to gasoline cars, and thanked industry journalists for not flaming the fire of hysteria with inappropriate and sensationalist reporting of the three separate events.
Musk also confirmed that the over-the-air update to the Active Air Suspension — which we reported on yesterday — has been done to “result in greater ground clearance at highway speeds.”
“To be clear, this is about reducing the chances of underbody impact damage, not improving safety,” Musk said. “The theoretical probability of a fire injury is already vanishingly small and the actual number to date is zero.”
For those worried that the update will be permanent, Musk confirmed Tesla is already working on its next version of the software which will “give the driver direct control of the air suspension ride height transitions.” It is expected to be pushed to customers’ cars some time in January.
With such a heavy focus on customer safety and with the lowest probability of injury of any car ever tested in the U.S., Musk confirmed that despite no legal requirement to, Tesla has asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to undertake a full investigation as soon as possible into the three separate fires. While one of the fires appears to have started after a Model S, piloted by a drunk driver, crashed at high speed and mounted a kerb, presumably damaging its undercarriage in the process, the other two fires were the direct consequence of Model S cars hitting metallic debris while travelling at high speed on the freeway.
Since the fire involving the drunk driver — which the second of the three Tesla Model S fires to occur — happened outside of the NHTSA’s jurisdiction in Merida, Mexico, the NHTSA will likely only be investigating the two fires involving Model S cars hitting metallic debris at speed. Despite this being a voluntary investigation, Musk said Tesla would take any findings seriously.
“While we think it is highly unlikely, if something is discovered that would result in a material improvement in occupant fire safety, we will immediately apply that change to new cars and offer it as a free retrofit to all existing cars,” he confirmed.
Of the investigation, Musk said the investigation was as much about the perceived safety of electric cars than anything else.
“Given that the incidence of fires in the Model S is far lower than combustion cars and that there have been no resulting injuries, this did not at first seem like a good use of NHTSA’s time compared to the hundreds of gasoline fire deaths per year that warrant their attention,” he said. “However, there is a larger issue at stake: if a false perception about the safety of electric cars is allowed to linger, it will delay the advent of sustainable transport and increase the risk of global climate change, with potentially disastrous consequences worldwide. That cannot be allowed to happen.”
Most importantly for owners concerned about battery fires after crash damage, Musk promised the Model S warranty policy has now been extended to cover all fire damage.
“Will will be amending our warranty policy to cover damage due to a fire, even if due to driver error,” Musk said. “Unless a Model S owner actively tries to destroy the car, they are covered. Our goal here is to eliminate any concern about the cost of such an event and ensure that over time the Model S has the lowest insurance cost of any car at our price point. Either our belief in the safety of our car is correct and this is a minor cost or we are wrong, in which case the right thing is for Tesla to bear the cost rather than the car buyer.”
These three pieces of news can only be good news for Tesla customers and Tesla’s own reputation, which Musk is rightly proud of. After all, how many car companies would act this quickly in response to a fire? Not many, we think.
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