By Jake Lingeman, Crain News Service
DETROIT (Nov. 15, 2013) — Following a series of collisions resulting in vehicle fires, Tesla Motors Inc.'s Elon Musk recently told Bloomberg that the electric Model S will "definitely" not be recalled by the auto maker.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has agreed—so far. The agency decided against a full investigation after the second Model S fire in October. A third fire happened last week in Tennessee.
Tesla's stock closed at $137.80 on Nov. 12, down 29 percent since the first fire was reported.
NHTSA hasn't commented on the fires since its Nov. 8 statement, which said agency officials had been talking with Tesla. Mr. Musk confirmed the communication, telling a Business Insider conference in New York that "we literally are in constant contact with [NHTSA representatives]" before adding that "NHTSA has real problems to deal with where people die or are seriously injured. Their time is preoccupied with that, not with fictional issues created by the media."
Further, Mr. Musk defended the car to the New York Times, saying the Model S is "five times less likely" to have a fire than a gasoline car.
Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, said NHTSA "absolutely has to investigate because it appears the metal shielding on the car's undercarriage can't prevent road debris from penetrating its lithium-ion battery packs."
Before the most recent fire, the Model S driver, Juris Shibayama, described hitting a trailer hitch, "I felt a firm thud as the hitch struck the bottom of the car, and it felt as though it even lifted the car up into the air." The car then told Mr. Shibayama to pull over, which he did, before the car started smoking and caught on fire. Mr. Shibayama said he would buy another Tesla if given the opportunity.
The Model S got five-star ratings on NHTSA's crash tests earlier this year, which include a head-on crash at 30 mph. The agency doesn't have a test for the battery shield, and fire-regulation laws are written for gasoline-powered cars. The organization will undoubtedly have to pen some new laws to govern these still-rare electric vehicles.
This report appeared on the website of Autoweek magazine, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.