NHTSA Closes Tesla Motors Investigation with No ‘Defect Trend’ Found

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has closed the investigation into the Tesla Motor’s Model S electric car determining that no ‘defect trend’ has been identified.

The investigation launched following three Tesla Model S fires in a relatively short time frame.

This announcement follows on from one made by the Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt — the German Federal Motor Transport Authority — in December 2013 who carried out a full safety analysis of the Tesla Model S following three incidents and determined there was no safety issue.

In a statement on the NHTSA website the  Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) say:

ODI believes impacts with road debris are normal and foreseeable. In this case, Tesla’s revision of vehicle ride height and addition of increased underbody protection should reduce both the frequency of underbody strikes and the resultant fire risk. A defect trend has not been identified. Accordingly, the investigation is closed.

Tesla today announced that is is improving the underbody protection of the Model S, using a triple-layer Aluminium-Titanium-Aluminium battery shield on all new cars. This is upgrade will also be made available to all current Model S drivers at their next service or sooner if they wish.

In response to this news, Tesla’s shares on the Nasdaq have gone up.

What is your view of the whole ‘Tesla fire’ story? Has this been handled correctly by all those involved? Let us know in the comments.


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  • D. Harrower

    Tesla just released new firmware a couple of days ago that undoes the changes to the ride height. Does this affect the ODI’s conclusions?

    • vdiv

      Right. Also the titanium shields are an optional retrofit, meaning there will be many Model S cars on the road for a while with the old aluminum shields.nnRegardless, why introduce either the shield or the ride high adjustment limit if there was no issue? Aren’t they an admission by Tesla that there is in fact an issue? Isn’t the ODI issuing the wrong conclusion by not making the updates mandatory?nnnThe much bigger issue here that affects us all is with the safety of the roads and with what is being done to minimize road aberrations such as debris. That does not seem to be addressed.

      • D. Harrower

        Tesla insists there is no reasonable safety concerns and they are doing this purely for customer “peace of mind”.nnI guess I’m just too cynical to buy that a company would go through the time and expense to develop this plate if they weren’t compelled to.

        • Chris O

          Compelled by the fact that if one if their cars burn it results in a media frenzy while the fact that 150K regular cars burn every year is completely ignored.

          • D. Harrower

            Yep. And it’s actually closer to 200,000 per year in North America alone. Of course, not all of those resulted in injury and/or death, but neither did any of the incidents involving Model S.nnJust goes to show the extent of the political/ideological “X factor” opposing EV adoption. I don’t think Tesla was aware it existed to this degree.

      • Chris O

        150K regular cars burn every year. Clearly there is an issue here (mainly that gasoline is dangerous) but the industry seems to be ignoring it. nnThe issue for Tesla is that if one of their cars burns it results in a media frenzy while the fact that countless gasoline cars burn to a crisp every year is totally ignored.

        • vdiv

          150k fossil fueled cars burning up is not the issue. Tesla’s and ODI’s responses are.

  • Chris O

    Personally I think its odd that not all cars are legally obliged to have the sort of underbody protection that Tesla does, or at least the low riding ones. After all with most cars it’s the occupants life and limbs on the line rather than just a batterypack. If the argument is “but road debris penetration is extremely rare”, than explain to me how it happened to a relative handful of Model S twice in 5 weeks.

    • D. Harrower

      But it never happened in the previous 18 months of production. So, pretty rare.nnAnd it has not happened since, either. Though one could argue this is a result of raising the ride height.

      • Chris O

        If we look at 2013 with probably an average of ~10K Model S on the road and extrapolate the fact that twice an armoured underside was pierced to the total population of low riding unprotected cars in the US I wonder how often the undersides of those cars must have been pierced statistically.

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