Titanium is light, silver in colour and incredibly corrosion resistant. It also has the highest strength-to-density ratio of any metallic element known to mankind, making it great for use in applications where light weight and durability are paramount.
As of earlier this month, it’s also now part of every Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA] Model S, says Tesla CEO Elon Musk. In an official announcement made just moments ago, the Californian automaker has changed the design of its Model S electric cars to include a Titanium underbody panel designed to protect the car’s powerful lithium-ion battery pack from impact damage caused by striking objects at high speed.
A direct response to two incidents last year in which metallic road debris impacted the underside of Model S battery packs, piercing the battery pack’s outer shell, causing a short-circuit and subsequently starting a fire, Musk says the newly engineered triple-layer battery shield has been designed to offer a ‘peace of mind’ to all customers.
Following the two impact-related fires — and one in which a Mexican Tesla Model S impacted a concrete wall after flying through the air in a high-speed collision with a roundabout — Musk said Tesla began an extensive internal vehicle test program to try and ascertain what happened — and why.
To reduce the risk of impact-related damages to ‘virtually zero’, Musk said, Tesla was rolling out a triple-layer Aluminium-Titanium-Aluminium battery shield on all new cars. Existing owners, he confirmed would be offered the newly-designed shield free of charge at their next service or upon request.
“During the course of 152 vehicle level tests, the shields prevented any damage that could cause a fire or penetrate the existing quarter inch of ballistic grade aluminum armor plate that already protects the battery pack,” Musk said.
With the new shield in place, Musk says, Tesla has tried its hardest to replicate a battery-damaging impact scenario to push the shield to its absolute limits.
“We have tried every worst case debris impact we can think of, including hardened steel structures set in the ideal position for a piking event, essentially equivalent to driving a car at highway speed into a steel spear braced on the tarmac,” he said.
To prove the safety of the new shield, Tesla has even published high-speed camera footage of Tesla cars being driven at high speed over a variety of road debris, including tow hitches, a concrete block, and an automotive alternator.
Musk says the shield — made up of a rounded, hollow aluminum bar, a titanium plate and then a shallow angle, solid aluminum extrusion — should prevent impact-related fires, even in extreme high-speed cases like the one in Mexico last year.
In most cases, Tesla expects the first layer of Aluminum — a hollow bar designed to deflect objects away from the battery pack — to suffice. For more stubborn road debris, Musk says the Titanium shield should be effective in ‘neutralizing the road debris’ Only in extreme cases Musk says, will the third, inner shield be needed. If it is called into action it will cause the “Model S to ramp up and over the object if it is essentially incompressible and immovable.”
Structurally, the shields are expected to only have a 0.1 percent impact on range, and do not change the aerodynamics of the car in a wind tunnel. Musk says the shields also have no affect on the Model S’ handling or ride quality.
It’s unclear at this time if this change in manufacturing is an official recall on Tesla’s part. Since that word — one Musk really hates — isn’t used anywhere in the official statement, we’d guess it isn’t at this time. Moreover, Tesla appears to suggest the ‘upgrade’ for existing owners is both voluntary and free of charge.
Take a look at the Tesla-provided images above and let us know what you think. Is Tesla’s actions what you’d expect? Will this silence Tesla’s critics? And do you think this just reinforces Tesla’s position as one of the safest car makers out there?
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