Call it the fire seen ’round the world. When a man driving a Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) Model S rammed into a large, angular metal object at highway speed, the electric vehicle’s battery pack burst into flames. Soon enough, the fire engulfed the front of the car. Yet the extraordinary circumstances of the event fazed neither car owner nor Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Days after the crash, both were calling the fire a fluke.
Musk described the event in detail in a blog post on Tesla’s website. The architect of the Model S wrote, “the geometry of the object caused a powerful lever action…impaling the Model S with a peak force on the order of 25 tons.” He added that only such a powerful force could puncture the armor plate underneath Tesla’s flagship vehicle. Since the fire was contained and the safety of the driver assured, Musk felt the test was passed.
Rob Carlson, the owner of the Model S in question, agreed wholeheartedly in an email reprinted on the Tesla site. Carlson described the occurrence as a freak event, a kind of “celestial bullet” engineers couldn’t have foreseen entering the picture. It turns out Carlson is also a Tesla investor and couldn’t wait to get back into a Model S (So, Tesla offered him a loaner). Carlson remarked the “Internet images really exaggerate” the fire, saying it was “a controlled burn.” Wall Street’s reaction was also exaggerated.
Tesla shares dipped 11 percent Wednesday, October 3, as pictures of the fire spread online. However, the assessment of Musk and the owner himself seem to have assuaged fears about the danger of stepping into a Tesla.
According to Musk, the risk of fire in an electric vehicle is about 1 percent that of a gasoline automobile, which catch fire once every 20 million road miles driven. The ratio is one for every 100 million miles in a Tesla. Musk summed it up in his blog post: “This means you are 5 times more likely to experience a fire in a conventional gasoline car than a Tesla!”
Shares gained over 4 percent once the explanation made its way through media outlets Friday, October 5. The framing Musk and the Model S owner gave it — a successfully passed test in a “doomsday” scenario — will likely be the lasting impression of car shoppers and shareholders alike.
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