After much speculation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced Tuesday that it has opened a formal investigation into the three Tesla Model S battery fires that occurred over a five-week period between October and November.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the NHTSA posted documents to its website on Tuesday and stated, “The agency’s investigation was prompted by recent incidents in Washington state and Tennessee that resulted in battery fires due to undercarriage strikes with roadway debris.” The fire that occurred in Mexico on October 18 is considered out of the NHTSA’s domain, but the accident is still expected to be taken into consideration as the agency determines whether the Model S has a defect that warrants a recall.
The two Model S fires that occurred in the U.S. took place in Washington and Tennessee on October 1 and November 6, respectively. Both vehicles caught on fire after hitting large pieces of metal on the highway, but neither driver was injured, and CEO Elon Musk maintained that the Model S is the safest car on the road, citing the vehicle’s top safety ratings to support his claim.
Musk, along with the Tennessee Model S driver himself, wrote blog posts on the company’s website explaining the series of events that led to the fires and their continued confidence in the vehicle, but analysts still predicted that the NHTSA would have no choice but to investigate the Model S, especially after more consumers voiced concern over the true safety of lithium-ion battery-powered vehicles.
As it turns out, Musk is all for the investigation. The CEO wrote another blog post on Monday, explaining that he actually requested the safety agency to conduct the investigation because he is sick of “popular and financial media seeking to make a sensation out of something that a simple Google search would reveal to be false.”
Musk is confident that an NHTSA investigation will reveal what he has been maintaining all along, and that is that the Model S is one of the safest cars on the road. “It is literally impossible for another car to have a better safety track record, as it would have to possess mystical powers of healing,” the CEO said.
Musk did more than merely silence qualms at the beginning of the week, though: The CEO also announced Monday that Tesla will now cover fire damage as part of the vehicle warranty, even if an accident is the driver’s fault. In addition, the Journal reports that the automaker is also planning two software updates to adjust the height of the Model S driving at faster highway speeds, making it less likely that damage will be suffered when running over roadway debris.
Following the NHTSA announcement and Musk’s latest blog post, Tesla shares were surging on Tuesday, up 5.43 percent at $128.21 by 11:50 a.m. The company’s shares have taken a beating in October and November following a record high of $194.50 posted on September 30, but analysts still credit the deflated investor optimism to Tesla’s third-quarter earnings, when executives presented a more modest forecast than what was initially expected.
It’ll be interesting to see what the NHTSA investigation reveals, but if Musk’s predictions ring true, then “There’s definitely not going to be a recall. There’s no reason for a recall.”