Will Tesla Ever Recover from Battery Problem?

The video of a Tesla Model S with its battery on fire alongside a freeway in suburban Seattle has made a powerful impact on the company. The video which went viral with over 300,000 views in the first two days after it was uploaded struck a powerful blow to the image of Tesla’s latest creation. The result of the video was immediate as Tesla’s stock slid significantly once the video was broadcasted around the world.

The battery fire that consumed the front end of the Tesla Model S was another blow to the electrical car industry in general. In 2011, three Chevy Volts caught fire after they endured crash-testing, a sign of a significant issue with the safety of the batteries in genera. Although the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ultimately determined that the Chevy Volt was no more dangerous than gasoline powered vehicles, the public’s perception about the overall safety of large batteries powering vehicles was set. The sight of the Model S merely added to that perception.

Unfortunately for Tesla, the sight of their Model S on fire has overshadowed the remarkable safety testing it has undergone to prove just how safe and reliable this vehicle can be. This is because there is a significant division between those enthusiastic about the potential for electrical vehicles while many others view them as too dangerous and not worth the extra expense.

tesla-model-sAs for the Model S in Seattle that burned, local officials confirmed that the fire did start in the battery pack of the car when it was apparently struck by some metal debris. However, the firefighters on the scene had remarkable difficulty putting out the blaze and had to cut a hole in the side of the vehicle to directly pour water onto the battery pack. It was determined later that the holes punched into the vehicle actually exacerbated the fire by allowing more oxygen in, but the combination of water and a chemical extinguisher did bring the fire to a quick end.

The driver was unharmed as he reportedly heard or felt the impact of the metal debris, pulled the vehicle to the side of the road and then smelled the battery inside burning and was able to get a safe distance away before the fire became visible.

Although a spokesperson for Tesla was quick to point out that the fire was contained to the front end of the vehicle, thanking the careful design and construction of the Model S, the video itself is simply a much more powerful image of a vehicle on fire because of the battery pack. It must be noted however that the fire itself was actually contained to a single battery inside the pack which was damaged. The other batteries were separated by firewalls and special vents in the vehicle directed the fire towards the road itself and away from the vehicle.

A full investigation of the incident by the NHTSA is still underway, but even if the cause was that of metal debris striking the battery pack, Tesla may need to demonstrate that such incidents are few and far between in order to gain back the confidence of the public.