Tesla Catches Fire While Charging in Norway: Tesla Investigating

Just over two years ago, electric car fires were very much in the crosshairs of the mass-media, after several incidents in which Tesla Model S electric cars caught fire following accidents in which objects had penetrated the belly of the luxury sedan at high speed, puncturing the industry-leading lithium-ion battery pack.

In every case, the high-speed impact caused damaged cells inside the battery pack to short-circuit, ultimately causing the battery pack pack to overheat and catch fire. In response to the statistically unlikely set of events which led up to each incident, Tesla responded swiftly, developing and fitted a brand-new high-strength belly shield to customers’ cars to reduce the risk of fires ever breaking out again due to under-body impacts.

Since then, there’s not been a single fire involving a Tesla Model S electric car — but on New Years’ Day that changed when a Tesla Model S was completely destroyed by fire in Norway.

This time however, the fire appears to have started while the luxury electric car was plugged in to Tesla’s proprietary Supercharger quick charge station.

As local TV station NRK reports, the owner of the car left their Tesla Model S plugged in to the Tesla Supercharger in Brokelandsheia, Gjerstad (about a three hour drive south of Oslo). Some time after they left, the plug-in caught fire.

The Tesla Model S battery contains a lot of energy -- but so too does a tank full of gasoline or hydrogen.

The Tesla Model S battery contains a lot of energy — but so too does a tank full of gasoline or hydrogen.

The photographs from the scene show little left of the Model S bearing testament to the ferocity of the fire and just how much chemical energy is stored within the Model S and its battery pack.

But while the fire did indeed consume the entire car, it’s worth mentioning that the firefighters attending the scene let the car burn for some time, since spraying water on an electric car fire can actually increase the fire rather than extinguish it.

Instead, the firefighters disconnected the car from the charging station and pushed it clear of the Superchargers, waiting until the fire had subsided slightly before dosing it in foam and extinguishing it.

Nobody was injured during the fire, nor were any other vehicles damaged. Neither the local fire department nor Tesla Motors have an explanation at this time as to what caused the fire.

“Nobody was harmed. We are undergoing a full investigation and will share our findings as soon as possible,” a Tesla spokesperson told Transport Evolved in an emailed statement earlier today. 

When it comes to vehicular safety and occupant safety, Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] is keen to be known as the world’s safest automaker. And for the most part, its safety record would suggest that, with far fewer reported incidents per 1,000 cars than most automakers.

Which brings us to an email we received earlier today, berating us for taking a few days to report the Tesla fire. Adversarial in nature, it makes some pretty serious allegations against both Transport Evolved and Tesla Motors — allegations which we’d like to dismiss.

It reads as follows:

From: Christine M******** <email redacted>

Message Body:

Do you plan to completely ignore the Tesla that caught fire at a supercharger in Norway? You’ve already been discredited with your ridiculous ELON MUSK bias. And you expect to be taken seriously. You’re a joke. Not worth the time to load into a browser.

This is what happens when you let your love of a product get in the way. We are taking up the slack- we are making sure people know about the lithium fire. Tesla’s will be seen as a fad- a joke from a belligerent 2 bit billionaire who dissed Fuel Cells because he wanted to sell more batteries. Shame on you and the rest of the idiot blogs that can’t separate fact from misguided fandom. The whole truth will come out one day.

The cause of the fire is being investigated.

The cause of the fire is being investigated.

As always, we take reader comment serious and do our best to respond to both praise and criticism in equal measure. We would like to point out however that our small editorial team prefers to wait until we have more context to a story before reporting on it, rather than jumping on the salacious bandwagon without a proper understanding of the background to a story.

The Tesla fire in Norway is no exception. While we became aware of the story on New Years’ Day, we’ve been waiting for expanded statements from both Tesla and the local fire department before publishing a story on the subject. As always, we’ll continue to cover the story as and when more information is available.

But we also feel at this juncture it’s important to note some basic statistics on vehicular fires.

Any vehicle — be it powered by hydrogen fuel, electrochemical batteries or fossil fuels — needs to store a large amount of energy on-board in order to power it along the road. Any time large amounts of energy is compressed into a small space, there’s a risk of fire or explosion.

Some cars — like plug-in hybrid cars and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles — actually use lithium-ion batteries in addition to gasoline or hydrogen fuel power.

While gasoline and diesel-powered vehicle fires are far lower in number today than they were twenty years ago thanks to improved engine design, improved safety systems and changes in the way vehicles are built, data collected thus far suggests electric cars are statistically three times less likely to catch fire than a comparable gasoline-powered one.

So far, there are too few hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on the market to provide statistics about H2 vehicle fires.

It’s also impossible for any car company to prevent against all eventuality, both in the manufacturing process and in the way their cars are used. While the image of the burned Tesla is indeed a distressing sight — as any burned car would be — we feel this isolated incident should not cause alarm at this stage.

Naturally, we’re keen to find out what caused the fire and hope that both Tesla Motors and the Norwegian emergency services make that cause known as and when it is determined.

But until that happens — or another fire occurs in similar situations — we’ll refrain from salacious finger waving.

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