Tesla Model S

Feds Request More Data in Tesla Fire Investigations

The Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt — the German Federal Motor Authority, may have just cleared Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] of any blame in the case of three recent fires involving its luxury Model S sedan, but that hasn’t slowed down the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) from continuing its own investigation into the same incidents.


Last Wednesday, in an official letter sent to James Chen, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs at Tesla Motors, the NHTSA made an official request that Tesla supply the Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) at the NHTSA with a host of paperwork and files to help it in its investigation. Included is a list of every Tesla Model S made to date, any details of incidents and defects discovered in the Model S, along with details of any claims, accidents or court proceedings involving battery fires, battery pack damage, and battery overheating.

The ODI team at the NHTSA also requested Tesla provide it with a list of possible consequences to the vehicle “from an impact to the subject component that damages the battery,” as well as Tesla’s own assessment of the alleged defect and full technical drawings of the battery pack, internal components and subassemblies which were involved in the fires.

Tesla must also hand over any documents it has handed to dealers, regional officers, fleet purchasers or anyone else regarding the alleged defect being investigated. This includes everything from official advisories and service bulletins to internal memos.

The investigation revolves around two separate incidents in which Tesla Model S cars caught fire after hitting metallic debris at speed, puncturing the Model S’ massive battery pack and causing an electrical short. A separate incident, which involved a Model S bursting into flames after its drunk driver drove over a roundabout in Mexico before crashing into a tree, falls outside the jurisdiction of the NHTSA.

The full investigation from the NHTSA will likely take a while.

The full investigation from the NHTSA will likely take a while.

As the official documentation details (which you can view here) Tesla has until January 14, 2014 to collate and complete the required paperwork and send it to the NHTSA.  Failure to do so could result in penalties levied against Tesla totalling a maximum of $35,000,000. Given Tesla CEO Elon Musk has already stated his willingness to work with the NHTSA to fully investigate the fires, we suspect there’s no risk of Tesla being fined for non-compliance with the NHTSA’s request.

This may sound like a lot for Tesla to provide, but from what we can tell, the request is no different from any other request issued by the ODI to an automaker on behalf of the NHTSA in order to carry out an official Federal safety investigation.

As for the results? It’s unlikely the NHTSA will be quite as quick as the Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt in its investigation, but we’d expect news from the investigation some time early next year.


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