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Teslas burn: stock, drop and roll

2013-11-08 10:59

DAMAGE TO ITS REPUTATION: A third Tesla Model S has been spotted in flames, this time in Tennessee, USA. For a automaker, success hinges on reputation and recurring blazes can be highly damaging. Image: AP

Tesla Motors' stock fell sharply after the automaker confirmed a fire in its electric Model S. The latest blaze marks the automaker’s third vehicle to be reported up in flames in two months!

A Tesla Model S electric car has been reported to be engulfed in flames. The blaze near Smyrna, Tennessee, engulfed the front of the car.

A spokesperson for the Tennessee Highway Patrol said: "The Model S ran over a tow hitch, which hit the undercarriage of the car, causing an electrical fire."

'IT PRETTY MUCH MELTED'


Larry Farley, Rutherford County fire chief, says the blaze was so hot and intense that it melted the front of the car: "It pretty much just melted to the road." Farley reports that despite the exterior damage, the cabin was "in pretty good shape" after the flames were extinguished. A report estimated the value of the loss from the fire at R1.2-million.

Tesla spokeswoman Elizabeth Jarvis-Shean said: "Our team is on its way to Tennessee to learn more about what happened in the accident in a statement. We will provide more information when we're able to do so."

The highway patrol report did not say how fast the Tesla Model S was traveling in Tennessee but the driver was able to pull off the roadway and get out of the car.

Tesla's battery pack is made up of small lithium-ion battery cells, an approach not used by other automakers. The battery pack stretches across the base of the vehicle.

The latest blaze marks the automaker’s third vehicle to be reported up in flames in two months. Consequently, Tesla’s stock fell nearly 6% to $142.44, (down $8.72) on November 7 2013 and has dropped 30% since the first fire was reported in October.

FIRE WOES

The first Model S fire occurred on October 1 in Seattle, when it was reported that the battery car collided with a large piece of metal debris causing the blaze. US safety regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said they found no evidence to indicate a vehicle defect.

The second fire took place in the same month in Merida, Mexico, when according to reports a car drove through a traffic circle, crashed through a concrete wall and hit a tree.

Neither driver was injured in the incidents and the automaker reports that owners have requested replacement vehicles.

BATTERY CARS – A SAFETY CONCERN?

Safety advocates argue that Tesla’s battery placement makes its vehicles more susceptible to fires. Battery fires have been reported in driving tests of the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf.

Kelley Blue Book, an automotive vehicle valuation company, senior analyst Karl Brauer said: "For a company with a stock price based as much or more on image than financials, those recurring headlines are highly damaging."

Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said the risk of a formal investigation by US safety regulators "could raise near-term concerns to a higher level in terms of cost, image and production disruption".

Sean Kane, founder and president of Safety Research & Strategies, said that while fires from petrol/diesel-powered vehicles are reported, blazes occurring from undercarriage impacts were uncommon. Kane asked wither the design of the Model S risks debris striking the battery.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said: “Safely storing and using the energy contained in our battery packs has been a core objective of Tesla. All vehicles carry energy and face the risk that this energy could be released in an accident.

“Even though the electrical energy stored in the battery pack is only about one tenth of the chemical energy stored in a tank of gasoline, we have designed complementary safety systems into the battery pack, including armor plating, internal firewalls and monitoring systems which provide additional layers of protection.”


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