Tesla Model S Fire After Accident Now Confirmed to be Battery Pack Related

11 months ago by Eric Loveday 62

Official Incident Report

Official Incident Report

The Tesla Model S fire that’s now headline news has taken a turn for the worse as the mainstream media just loves to jump all over any after-accident electric vehicle fire.  (Video footage of Model S fire can be found here)

Model S On Fire

Model S On Fire

As the official documents now show, the Model S was driving southbound on SR 167 in the Seattle area when it collided with an undisclosed metal object.  Transcripts of the 911 call confirm that the collision occurred in the HOV lane.  The driver stated that the vehicle began to run poorly immediately following the impact.

The driver was not injured and managed to safely exit the vehicle prior to it becoming engulfed in flames.

The metal object appears to have punctured the front portion of the Model S battery pack.

As the official incident report shows, the fire was difficult to extinguish and it seems there’s enough evidence to now definitively say that the battery pack of the Model S was the source of the fire.  Tesla spokeswoman Elizabeth Jarvis-Shean has confirmed this:

“[Fire resulted from] direct impact of a large metallic object to one of the 16 modules within the Model S battery pack.”

“Because each module within the battery pack is, by design, isolated by fire barriers to limit any potential damage, the fire in the battery pack was contained to a small section in the front of the vehicle.”

 

“This was not a spontaneous event.  Every indication we have at this point is that the fire was a result of the collision and the damage sustained through that.”

However, what’s overlooked by most news outlets is that Tesla engineered its battery pack in a way that limits/restricts the severity of a thermal event such as this.

The Model S’ battery pack contains a gel that solidifies when heated to a certain degree.  This gel seems to have prevented the thermal event from reaching the rear section of the battery pack.

The mystery that we’d like answered now is what exactly is this “large metallic object” that the driver claims to have collided with?  Judging by the damage to the front section of the Model S, this “large metallic object” was big…like way big.

Off we go seeking an answer…

Editor’s Note:  After trading off yesterday, Tesla shares seem to continue to react to this news (as well as an analyst downgrade) as it hits national airwaves.  At time of press, TSLA was off about $10 at $171.00 – shares traded as high as $194.50 earlier in the week  (real time quote can be found here)

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62 responses to "Tesla Model S Fire After Accident Now Confirmed to be Battery Pack Related"

  1. Richard Joash Tan says:

    what is the type of “large metallic object” my be? A shard? way impossible. Is it really the one of the crossmembers of the Model S?

    okay, I’m not really a detective here, but that Large metallic object is sourced outside the Model S causing it to be engulfed in flames.

    1. kdawg says:

      And why was it in the HOV lane? Are people messing with HOV lane drivers (ev’s)?
      Of course it could just have been a muffler?
      Maybe we need to be like Russia, and everyone put dash-cams on their cars.
      Now, what will be Tesla’s response? Add more metal plating (sort of like GM did after their fire)?

      1. scott moore says:

        I hit two rocks in the road with my (former) Miata. The car is very close to the ground. I hit a rock that other cars were just going right over. Twice, in fact, in the space of 6 months. The first one I perhaps could have avoided. The second was in a line of cars exiting the freeway, the car in front of me, in fact the whole line of cars, simply had driven over it. I had no time to react.

      2. Andrew says:

        I live about 15 miles south of this incident. It’s not that uncommon to see random crap on 167, usually having fallen out of one of the local semis or small work-trucks. Just today on my way to Renton there was a seat-cushion and scrap metal on the shoulder.

  2. Thomas J. Thias says:

    Well lets examine gas car fires in the USA. According to the First Responder Trade Website, some 17 passenger gas car fires occure in the USA PER HOUR! This equals some 153,000 passenger gas car fires and over 200,000 total vehicle fires in the USA annualy!

    Source-

    https://www.nfpa.org/safety-information/for-consumers/vehicles

    CNN today is now reporting on one of these coultless gas car related tragedies now!

    http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/03/us/tennessee-church-bus-crash/index.html?c=us

    Best-

    1. Jay Cole says:

      Your very right Thomas, unfortunately the high profile nature of this incident probably means it won’t be reported in context/responsibly by all media outlets.

      Even if this turns out 100% isolated to this occurrence/no fault at all with Tesla, its not a good story for any of us promoting plug-ins. But what can you do? It happens. We move on.

      Sidenote: “E71″ is the man

      1. Richard Joash Tan says:

        Just an Update: someone from youtube said that the cause may be coming from one of the large metal debris

      2. George B says:

        Yes, this is unfortunate, and I was wondering when it would happen. Tesla has traditionally used cells with high energy density but relatively low thermal runaway temperature. It’s a calculated risk, mitigated by their pack design and thermal management system.

        None of the traditional automakers took such risk, and the chemistry they use is typically some flavor of manganese oxide. Less energy dense, but with a much higher thermal runaway threshold. LMO and the derivative NMC chemistry are ironically sensitive to ambient temperature and degrade more quickly in hot climates.

        That said, the incidence of lithium fires is much lower than gasoline fires, but our media seems to obsess about it for some reason. Perhaps it’s the relative novelty of the technology combined with the perceived risk of high-voltage electrical systems.

        1. kdawg says:

          I remember when there were a lot of cell phone fires, and laptop fires. But today, everyone still puts them up to their face and sets them on their laps. It will blow over for most, but will probably be a talking point for the anti-ev crowd until the day they buy one (aka never).

  3. David Murray says:

    Yes.. Why has it taken so long to identify the object? I mean, it must still be in the road somewhere, or knocked off into the shoulder. Why hasn’t anyone gone to find the object and tell us all what it was.

    1. qwerty says:

      “Why hasn’t anyone gone to find the object and tell us all what it was.”

      Ummm, because it’s dangerous. David, why don’t you go there pull over on the shoulder, walk across four lanes of highway traffic while dodging cars going 70+ miles per hour, stand next to HOV lane and take some pics of road debris for us! It’s a really, really bad idea. Even driving down the highway looking at all the debris on the side of the HOV lane is a bad idea. Your attention should be focused on driving your car and on the traffic around you. It’s distracted driving to go on a scavenger hunt on the highway trying to find the piece of debris that caused fire in the Tesla. It’s bad enough as it is with all the distracted drivers out there talking and texting on their cell phones, and not focusing on their driving. Besides, for all you know the offending piece of metal may be embedded in the Tesla’s battery pack.

  4. Blind Guy says:

    I’m no Firemen but is using water on a potentially high voltage situation really the best thing to do?

    1. George B says:

      Yes, but strangely enough, water is the recommended medium to put out a lithium fire.

  5. GeorgeS says:

    The gel is news to me. Interesting input.

  6. Taser54 says:

    Re:heat expanding foam. The battery pack fire was really contained by the actions of the fire fighters drilling holes and dousing the pack with water. At best, the foam slowed the rate of expansion of the pack fire.

    Glad no one was hurt.

    1. GeorgeS says:

      Article quote:
      “The Model S’ battery pack contains a gel that solidifies when heated to a certain degree. This gel seems to have prevented the thermal event from reaching the rear section of the battery pack.”

      1. George B says:

        Very interesting.

      2. Taser54 says:

        That is the observation of the article author, not the firefighters at the scene.

      3. Eric Loveday says:

        Tesla is so secretive when it comes to its battery technology, but yes there’s a foam/gel in there to control thermal events. Basically, it’s there to trap/limit any thermal event cell by cell.

        1. George B says:

          Good to know Eric, and I agree about the secrecy that shrouds Tesla’s battery pack design and assembly process.

    2. ItsNotAboutTheMoney says:

      No. By your logic the entire car should have been engulfed in flames.

      1. Taser54 says:

        My logic is that the foam/gel merely slows the thermal runaway. It took the firefighters drilling into the pack and flooding it with water to stop it.

        1. ItsNotAboutTheMoney says:

          The _front_ of the battery was damaged.
          The fire was at the _front_ of the car.
          A hole was drilled through the _front_ structural member and the fire was permanently extinguished.

          There’s no evidence that if left unchecked that runaway would have occurred in other parts of the battery.

  7. Ocean Railroader says:

    I remember I was once driving and there was a full sized 12 foot metal latter in the center of the Interstate that was blocking two lanes and it was blocking traffic and people where spinning out of the way to avoid hitting it. I also remember serving to avoid hitting it in that it would have surely ripped out the bottom of my car.

    I think the Firefighters handled it the best way they could considering it was something they had never seen before.

  8. GeorgeS says:

    TSLA 172 off 5%

    1. MDEV says:

      I just bough more shares at this price :)

    2. Nelson says:

      When trivial bad news happens it’s always a good time to buy.

      NPNS!
      Volt#671

  9. MDEV says:

    Yesterday I saw a BMW 335i convertible fire in I95 in Maryland. The fire fighters extinguished the fire, not accident that I could see. Spontaneous fires like happen even to ICE (Ford Explorer) or Karma is a problem but after accidents!!! please give me a break the Volt that got fire after the crash test burned few days after the crash and is safe. Tesla should see this opportunity of improve battery protection from debris. This weekend I will fly in Boeing 787 battery problem solve, I wouldn’t worry about FOX news, they are busy shutting down the Government, amusing of causing more harm to 800K people than this story.

    1. Aaron says:

      There’s got to be a balance between adding 2 inch steel around the battery and the weight it adds. This is a one-off event, not something that will happen all the time.

      1. MDEV says:

        What about add Kevlar? light weight

        1. Nelson says:

          I’m surprised the batteries are not sitting on a one inch thick piece of polystyrene like insulation to keep them cool while parked on a hot surface. This could also protect the bottom against debris impact.

          NPNS!
          Volt#671

      2. Nelson says:

        I’m not sure steel is what you want. Do we ship eggs in steel cartons?

        NPNS!
        Volt#671

    2. Jeff D says:

      Actually it seemed that Bloomberg was the most biased and negative. They questioned the cars safety, even though they mentioned five star rating. They spoke of the five star rating very dismissively by saying lots of cars have one and basically accused Tesla of creating the other numbers that they used to say their car is number one in safety. They made it sound as if the stock drop was totally from the fire news and had nothing to do with financial advice also given during the day. Compared to this Fox News was rather complimentary.

  10. Robert says:

    Was the driver named Broder?? And had he been driving around in circles for an hour looking for metal in the road? Serious question…

    1. MDEV says:

      Nope it was the car of FOX and friends.

      1. Robert says:

        Doesn’t mean anything to me MDEV. I’m an english boy. But i’m assuming you mean FOX the news network and their political preferences / ties with oil companies? Tesla rocks by the way.

        1. MDEV says:

          You are English? well you suffered with FOX as well , let me explain
          Rupert Murdoch’s is the same guy who owns News UK was formerly known as News International, the News Corp subsidiary responsible for the phone hacking scandal in UK.
          Now you understand what we have to deal with.

          1. Robert says:

            Aaah Murdoch. Now i get it.

  11. MDEV says:

    DEUTSCHE BANK ON TESLA FIRE: This ‘Had To Happen At Some Point’
    MATTHEW BOESLER OCT. 3, 2013, 7:26 AM 8,699 14

    Yesterday, Tesla shares fell 6.2% — in part because of an analyst’s downgrade, but also perhaps in part because of a fiery car crash that raised concerns over the safety of the electric vehicle’s lithium-ion battery.

    In a note to clients (titled “Had to happen at some point; no change to the thesis”), Deutsche Bank analysts led by Dan Galves argue that this was inevitable.

    “We expect that negative news flow and investor concern over the impact to demand of this incident will put negative pressure on the stock in the near-term,” write the Deutsche Bank analysts. “And these are meaningful concerns, as this is a new technology and one in which sensitivity to safety risk is very high.”

    However, the Deutsche Bank team also offers a few reasons why damage to investor perceptions of Tesla vehicles’ safety should be mitigated:

    After 83 million miles of Model S driving, 12 significant accidents, and extreme crash-testing by U.S. Safety regulators, this is the first fire in a Tesla vehicle. Although more details are needed on the exact reasons behind this incident, and it would certainly be best to completely eliminate the chance of a fire, Tesla believes that the frequency in which an accident propagates a fire is similar in an internal combustion vehicle.

    The fire resulted from a collision. If this had been a spontaneous incident with no catalyst (i.e. in someone’s garage), the impact would be significantly worse. This was not an explosion. The fire started gradually and the vehicle performed as designed in terms of protecting the driver and providing ample warning.

    Tesla’s ability to monitor the vehicle systems remotely will enable a detailed report on the root cause of the incident. We believe that the company will and should provide as much information as possible.

    “This incident does not change our positive thesis on the company or the stock,” concludes Galves. “Given significant Roadster and Model S experience (6 years, tens of millions of miles driven) without a fire, we have confidence that this is an isolated incident that could happen to any vehicle.”

    Deutsche Bank has a buy rating on the stock and a price target of $200.

    1. George B says:

      Agreed, thanks for posting! Would you have a link to the original report perhaps?

    2. George B says:

      DEUTSCHE BANK ON TESLA FIRE: This ‘Had To Happen At Some Point’

      – Article here

  12. MDEV says:

    Can someone tell me where to buy a car with

    Gas tank
    Diesel Tank
    Hydrogen tank
    Propane gas tank
    Fuel cell
    Battery

    THAT NEVER CAUGHT FIRE AFTER SEVERE DAMAGE OF THE ALL OF THE ABOVE!!

    1. Taser54 says:

      In response, I’d direct you to look at the location of those tanks. They are located far above the road surface to prevent the foreseeable event of simple road debris contacting the tank.

      1. John Hansen says:

        Well, actually they are located on the bottom of the car, same as the Tesla battery pack. Where did you think they put the gas tanks, in the roof?

    2. David says:

      Good point.
      You buy a car to drive you many miles. Thats requires massive amounts of energy to move that distance. Any large reservoir of energy like that can be damaged so that it releases energy in uncontrolled fashion. Gasoline tends to explode as does hydrogen, and propane. Tesla handling the fire may be as good as you can reasonably expect.

    3. io says:

      Sure. Easy. At your local Nissan dealership; possibly Mitsubishi, Ford or Honda too…

      No EV other than now this Model S ever caught fire, however I don’t know how severely the i, Fit EV, Focus Electric or any other relatively low-volume vehicle were ever “tested” in real conditions.

      Some Leafs sure got pretty badly messed up, with no adverse consequence. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/22/business/tsunami-reveals-durability-of-nissans-leaf.html

      Well-engineered battery packs can be very safe.

  13. Driverguy01 says:

    Here’s my take on it for what its worth.
    Driver got on an exit and stopped because he SMELLED SMOKE and the car’s behavior was abnormal.
    Driver DID NOT STOP BECAUSE OF EXTENSIVE DAMMAGE TO THE FRONT OF THE CAR. Thats importent!
    My guess is firefighters took no chance and dismanteled the front of the car to get to the fire source, ence the apparent damage to the front of the car.
    since the Tesla S rides low to the ground at highway speeds, that makes it vulnerable to road debris and in any case thats not a good thing.
    Most probable cause in my mind is the car drove over a muffler and it punctured the steel plate under the car. Maybe a carbon fiber sheild much more resistant to road debris instead of steel plate would better prevent against road debris without adding weight.
    Just my opinion on this accident.

  14. Bo says:

    Battery pack falsely blamed, everything is speculation until Tesla releases an official statement, but at the very least this incident was triggered by a large metallic object in the road.

    Over 15,000 Model S’s have been on the road for a year and this is the 1st report and video of one actually on fire, surprisingly in the front in which only some flammable fluids are located and the 12V, the battery pack which underlies the floorboard in the middle is protected by multiples inches of thick aluminum so it would be pretty hard for it to be breached or the cause of the fire… but it isn’t impossible…

    And no car is impervious to intentional damage… but the Model S has a high tolerance for abuse… and is still the safest car.

    …meanwhile tons of gas cars have caught fire and may possibly have ended lives, while this Tesla owner got out unharmed and no one was injured

    this is mediocrely trivial compared to the rate of ICE Fires but rather more interesting…

    ALSO to add that the car told him to pull over and get out (before the fire ignited)… what other car can do that?

  15. Tesla Fan says:

    it is still not confirmed come on now official confirmation will come from Tesla

  16. Foo says:

    I always try to steer around anything in the road, even if it appears to be “just a paper bag” or a cardboard box. You have no idea what might be inside!

    Granted, sometimes you can’t make a sudden evasive move when travelling at speed or in traffic. But, that’s why it helps to maintain distance between you in the car ahead — the extra reaction time can make all the difference. Unfortunately, most people don’t do this, because they’re dumb and/or complacent (aka, bad drivers).

    Perhaps this BBQ Tesla guy had no choice but to run something over that ended up damaging the car, through no fault of his own. Though apparently, he did have time to recognize it as a “large metallic object”. I’m sure more details will be revealed out in the coming days.

  17. scott moore says:

    Am I the only one who thinks the firemen “acted stupidly” when they showed up for this fire? They were going to poke holes in the battery compartment and pour water directly on the battery?????

    1. George B says:

      Believe or not, water is the recommended medium to put out lithium fires. Not sure how to respond to your other comment.

      How to put out a Lithium Battery Fire

  18. Bloggin says:

    I am sure Tesla is reviewing their battery pack design to better understand how this could happen.

    Looking at the battery pack, the Tesla giant battery is like a low riding gas tank up front, with no crash crumple zone. Unlike fuel tanks that normally ride up higher than the rest of the underbody, and at the rear of a vehicle.

    The Leaf battery pack is positioned in a similar fashion below the front seats. Low and at the front of the underbody with no underbody crumple zone. But there is room to move the battery pack to the rear.

    However, the Ford Focus Electric battery pack is positioned to replace the fuel tank, below and behind the rear seats. With the area below the front seats as an underbody crumple zone for the battery pack.

    I am also sure the other automakers are paying attention.

    1. io says:

      [sigh] As usual, you state as fact what are actually wild guesses of yours, and they almost invariably turn out to be wrong.
      The bulk of the Leaf battery pack is below the rear seats, and this is what the underneath of the vehicle looks like (notice underbody panels): http://www.mynissanleaf.com/viewtopic.php?p=91580
      And this is the FFE battery:

      1. Tyler4 says:

        The FFE battery pack appears to be securely located from both accidents and road debris.

        I think Tesla’s quick change battery design forces the battery to be in a more vulnerable spot than it otherwise would be if it didn’t need to drop out easily.

      1. io says:

        @Bloggin, cool pictures, thanks, but…
        1) please note the caption under the Leaf cut-away: it’s flipped compared to the picture of the car above it.
        2) re the Focus: I still don’t remember the gas version having its tank in the trunk.

  19. George B says:

    Yahoo Finance:

    Tesla fire shows electrics face safety challenges

    Tesla says this is the only fire ever to happen in one of its batteries. Although a Chevrolet Volt made by General Motors caught fire two years ago after a government crash test, neither GM nor Nissan, which make the top-selling electric cars in the nation, know of any real-world blazes in their vehicles.

    “If you think about what you’d rather be close to, 10 gallons of gasoline or a battery pack, I’d pick the battery pack every day,” said Giorgio Rizzoni, director of the Center for Automotive Research at Ohio State University, where he is a professor of mechanical and electrical engineering.

    Capt. Kyle Ohashi with the Kent, Wash., Fire Department said crews learned lessons from fighting the Tesla fire. For one, the dry chemical extinguisher seemed to work better than water to combat the blaze. And he said the department is now aware that accessing the battery pack in a Tesla is quite difficult.

    Ohashi said firefighters may need a course on how to handle electric cars. He also said Tesla may provide guidance.

    “Maybe now they’ll come up with some sort of procedure to share with our industry,” he said.

    Rizzoni said he’s sure Tesla and other automakers already are working on ways to better protect batteries. “Sometimes you don’t know you have a problem until it happens,” he said.

  20. Just_Chris says:

    enter “deaths from road pollution” into Google. In my opinion, I think we should let fox milk this for all its worth and then start to have some very serious conversations at a legal level about how best to compensate people who have suffered death or serious injury due to the automotive industry.

    I’ll put Tesla down for a strong cup of coffee and a set of new underwear and we’ll start the rest of the automotive industry with a bill for the compensation of the families of around 200 000 Americans killed by air pollution a year.

    1. Tyler4 says:

      How much pollution was created by this particular blazing Tesla?

      Does the pollution generated to create the energy to power an electric vehicle count?

      Does the pollution generated by the energy required to sustain the vampire draw of a parked Tesla count?

      If you want to have a ‘serious conversation’ you have to start with an open mind that looks at the total picture.

      Isn’t the real answer mass transit and walking and biking?

      1. io says:

        For a discussion to be indeed serious, one would have to scrutinize gas cars (including oil extraction, transport, refining and distribution) just as much as electrics.

        Pollution from fire: in the US alone, around 150k cars ignite every year.
        http://www.nfpa.org/~/media/Files/Research/Fact%20sheets/automobilefiresfactsheet.pdf
        With one incident in several years, EVs contribute about 0.0002%.

        Pollution from electricity generation: this question has been addressed multiple times already. In short, anywhere in the US, EVs are cleaner than most cars; for roughly half the population, EVs are cleaner than any gas car.
        http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_vehicles/smart-transportation-solutions/advanced-vehicle-technologies/electric-cars/emissions-and-charging-costs-electric-cars.html
        The fact that, unlike cars, power plants are typically located outside highly populated areas, further decreases their impact on public health.