Newspaper article International New York Times

U.S. Safety Agency Opens an Inquiry into Tesla Fires ; Maker of Electric Cars Plans Changes after 3rd Incident with Its Model S

Newspaper article International New York Times

U.S. Safety Agency Opens an Inquiry into Tesla Fires ; Maker of Electric Cars Plans Changes after 3rd Incident with Its Model S

Article excerpt

Decision came amid public speculation about the electric car's safety and the battery pack's design after three fires in six weeks.

The United States government announced on Tuesday that it had opened an investigation into two recent battery fires in the Tesla Motors Model S sedan.

The decision, by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, came amid public speculation over the electric car's safety and the battery pack's design after three fires in six weeks. Two of the fires occurred on U.S. highways when the cars hit debris in the road. A third, in Mexico, took place after a high-speed crash into a wall and a tree. The drivers in all three incidents were unhurt.

Tesla said Monday that it would take certain safety measures aimed at creating more ground clearance in the cars and would extend its warranty policy to cover vehicles damaged by fire.

The first Model S fire occurred on Oct. 1, after the car struck a metal object on a highway in Kent, Wash., outside of Seattle. After a delay of more than two weeks because of a partial government shutdown, the agency decided the fire was not the result of a defect in the car and an investigation was not necessary.

The incident in Mexico, which is outside the federal agency's scope, happened on Oct. 18. A third fire, on Nov. 6 on a Smyrna, Tenn., highway near Nashville, started after the car struck a tow hitch lying in the roadway.

"The agency has opened a formal investigation to determine if a safety defect exists in certain Tesla Model S vehicles," the agency said in a statement Tuesday. "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."

A defect investigation by the agency can take months and could include crash tests of the vehicle. If a vehicle is determined to have a design defect that poses a safety risk, the government can order the manufacturer to recall cars on the road and make structural changes. Regulators can impose fines if a company fails to address the problems.

In a blog post Monday on Tesla's website, Elon Musk, the chairman, said the automaker had asked the federal agency to conduct a full investigation into the fires. …

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