Tesla Model S Blaze in Nashville Makes Three Fires in Six Weeks

By · November 07, 2013

Tesla Model S car fire south of Nashville. Source: Twitter user NASHVILLIAN

A Tesla Model S caught fire yesterday south of Nashville, Tenn., making a string of three Model S car fires in a little over a month. Like the other two incidents, nobody was injured, reinforcing claims that the Model S is safe. Few details are known other than pictures found on Twitter and Instagram, and an initial statement from Tesla Motors.

The incident occurred on I-24 south of Nashville, Tenn., at about 1:30 p.m. local time. Photographs posted online show the Model S pulled over to the median strip, with a fire smoldering in the front trunk area. Two people are seen walking in the median, one wearing what looks like surgical scrubs. The car had no apparent damage, other than what was caused by the fire. It appears the fire did not reach the passenger compartment.

Tesla provided this official statement: "We have been in contact with the driver, who was not injured and believes the car saved his life. Our team is on its way to Tennessee to learn more about what happened. We will provide more information when we’re able to do so."

The conditions of this blaze make it similar to the first Model S car fire, in Kent, Wash. on Oct. 1. In that event, the fire occurred when that car was driven over metallic road debris, puncturing the battery pack, causing a short circuit, leading to a fire in the battery pack. The car detected a problem, instructing the driver to pull off the road after which the car caught on fire.

Tesla Model S Tennessee Fire

A photograph of the latest Model S fire, posted by an Instagram user.

In gasoline powered cars, this type of accident, called "Fuel Tank Fire," is common. After the Kent, Wash. fire, Tesla claimed their battery pack is safer than gasoline fuel tanks. It is protected by a quarter-inch aluminum plate, and divided into 16 modules with fire-resistant barriers between each one. If a fire occurs, the battery pack is designed to channel the fire toward the front of the car. In both incidents, in Washington and Tennessee, the fire was contained in the front of the car.

The second Model S car fire occurred outside Merida, Mexico on the Yucatan Peninsula. In that case, the vehicle was traveling at 100 miles per hour before the accident. During Tesla's conference call on Tuesday to discuss quarterly results with analysts, CEO Elon Musk said "The car actually sheared something like 17 feet of concrete wall, then went through a concrete wall, then smashed into a tree." The passengers, who survived what could have been a fatal accident in a less safe car, were able to flee the scene.

Proper Context

More than 150,000 gasoline car fires occur in the U.S. every year. That's about 17 car fires per hour, every day. This results in hundreds of deaths and injuries a year, and accounts for 10 percent of all fires in the US, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

A month ago, citing statistics like this, Elon Musk claimed that Model S fires occur at one-fifth the rate of gasoline car fires. The 150,000 gasoline car fires, divided into three trillion miles driven per year, equates to one fire per 20 million miles driven. With 100 million miles of Model S driving, and one Model S car fire at the time, the risk was pegged at one-fifth of that posed by gas-powered cars. Three fires skews the risk ratio in a negative direction for Tesla.

On Wednesday, Tesla's stock price fell by 25 points (14.51% loss), before news of this Model S car fire fully hit the social media. The initial report came via a picture posted by a Twitter user going by the name NASHVILLIAN. At about the same time pictures were posted by DavanH, an Instagram user.

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