Tesla To Update Model S For Safer Charging Following Supercharger Fire In Norway

2 years ago by Steven Loveday 38

Little remained of the Tesla Model S after the fire in Norway

Little remained of the Tesla Model S after the fire in Norway

After a lengthy investigation, it was proven that the recent fire that burned a Tesla Model S to the ground was caused by a short-circuit inside the distribution box in the vehicle, not the Supercharger itself.

Tesla Model S fire

Tesla Model S fire

Although statistically, there is a 1 in 2.5 million chance of this happening, Tesla was compelled to take action. The company will be applying a new over-the-air software update to assure extra safety during charging, which would help to identify any possible short-circuit.

Timeline:

  • January 1, 2016: A Model S caught fire at a Supercharger in Gjerstad, Norway. No injuries occurred. Tesla began a full investigation.
  • January 6, 2016: The Police found no charger damage or issues, but kept it offline.
  • January 14, 2016: The Accident Investigation Board Norway (AIBN) stopped the investigation since it seemed the fire was started in the vehicle.

Tesla’s Norway communications manager, Even Sandvold Roland, said:

“In January, it was an isolated incident where a Model S caught fire while using a Supercharger. The cause was a short-circuit in the distribution box in the car. Superchargers were turned off immediately when the short-circuit was discovered. No one was injured in the fire. Our investigation confirmed that this was an isolated incident, but due to the damage to the car, we could not definitely identify the exact cause of the short-circuit.”

Chief engineer Jostein Ween Dig for the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergency Planning explained:

“We are confident that this is a special event. A car fire is often spectacular, but there is no reason to believe that electric cars burn more often than other cars. Statistics actually indicate that incidence of fires is lower for electric cars.”

“The owner had time to run back, unplug the charger connector and remove his possessions from the car. It took several minutes before the car was ablaze. Normally an electric vehicle fire is not as explosive as it can be in a petrol car. The flames you see in the picture and video were mostly from plastic in the interior that caught fire.”

The Supercharger is back online and fully functional and the case is now considered closed.


Sources: Teslarati, Electrek, VG

Hat tip to Teng!

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38 responses to "Tesla To Update Model S For Safer Charging Following Supercharger Fire In Norway"

  1. Get Real says:

    Fixed for all other Tesla’s by an OTA update, nice!

    Now I wonder how many people will whine about Tesla’s OTA updates and be apologists for why the legacy OEMs don’t do them?

    1. AlanSqB says:

      This whole over the air whooey seems really hinky. Who knows who could grab those data packages out of the “air” and change them and put them back in the “air” for bad reasons?

      I prefer my car to just stay like it is, forever. None of this technology stuff.

      *I tried.

      1. Fabian says:

        Uhh, sorry but it does not work that way.

        These are digitally encrypted and signed update packages. The car would refuse to accept them if it detects they have been altered. Also, the communication model is using PKI along with the already difficult to crack secure cellular packet transmission model. This is not a simple voice call.

        The OTA update function is probably the most secure communication process in a Model S.

      2. Will says:

        That’s a fail viewpoint tbh. If your car is faulty then why would you want it to stay faulty forever? Or would you rather drive it to dealers, perhaps you enjoy recalls instead?

      3. Darren says:

        He was being sarcastic guys above…

        It’s amazing that it can be fixed with OTA instead of taking to the dealer in a traditional vehicle…

  2. Fabian says:

    Wow, Tesla really came through on this with an OTA fix. What a great car and company.

    I can’t help but think that GM would have waited for a couple of dozen houses to burn down and maybe some unfortunate deaths before dragging it out in the courts; and then handing out a couple a measly checks.

    Can’t wait for my Tesla model III. I will be in line ready with my deposit check @ 10am.

    1. ModernMarvelFan says:

      Has any Volt caught fire during charging that is caused by the Volt interior hardware?

      No.

      So, stop your Tesla cheerleading and GM hating..

      1. Rick Danger says:

        Volts don’t charge at anywhere near Supercharger speeds, and GM would have for sure just kept quiet hoping it would all blow over.
        Don’t blame us for GM’s sins.

        1. ModernMarvelFan says:

          “Volts don’t charge at anywhere near Supercharger speeds, and GM would have for sure just kept quiet hoping it would all blow over.”

          120kW over 85kWh is only 1.4C

          1.4C on a 18.4kWh is only 26kW. Volt regens at much higher rate than 26kW or in its hold mode or mountain mode recharging rate.

          So, Volt battery does experience that rate if not higher on per C basis.

    2. Bill Howland says:

      This is more than a curious situation.

      IF the problem had been the supercharger, Tesla would have gone all out to say, “See, the car wasn’t at fault at all!!!”, which is what they in fact DID say when their substandard 6-50P EVSE cord was contributory to a garage fire. I’ve personally seen these things overheat, – at a Tesla Service Center where there are the optimum conditions. They are substandard since they don’t meet NEMA standards for current density.

      But now, they seem to be quick to blame the heretofore perfect car.

      The other head scratcher is what kind of software update could make the car more fireproof without slowing down the charging rate. And if they do, why did it take a fire for them to change it?

      Perhaps the tesla people will not be so quick to criticize the Fisker Karma’s fires (but I’ll criticize the Fisker because it was simply brain-dead to leave a fuse out of the cooling fan).

      Im not saying it didn’t need to be done – this car, from the pictures, would have cremated its driver had the driver been unable to leave the car.

      1. Nick says:

        The fire was so slow that the driver had time to get his belongings out of the car and disconnect the super charger before it went up.

        Even a sloth driver would have been able to finish eating a two course meal before exiting the vehicle without getting singed. 🙂

  3. G2 says:

    Bang on regarding GM needing to kill a few dozen before they spend $10 on a fix.

    1. ModernMarvelFan says:

      Apparently, GM missed you.

      Then again, you aren’t even worth the $10.

  4. ffbj says:

    It is rather a catastrophic effect for a short-circuit. Maybe there should be some sort of fire suppression system within the vehicle itself.
    They were unable to identify the specific place of the short-circuit, but they are able to identify the cause and fix it?

    1. TomArt says:

      As far as the cause goes, modern forensics is pretty spectacular – they don’t have to make up much on TV shows and movies these days.

      For the fix, my amateur conjecture is that they changed some current and/or voltage and/or temperature thresholds in the control software that would affect the entire system, reducing the risk of a short, regardless of the circuit (overheated, maybe?).

      1. ffbj says:

        I suppose. Just seemed a bit fuzzy.
        They could just send a query voltage through the system to detect a short, and then interrupt the charging.

        1. Nick says:

          Yep, CHAdeMO does that before starting charging. The station sets the voltage to 500v and holds it for a few seconds as a test before charging. They call it an insulation test.

    2. sven says:

      ffbj said:
      “They were unable to identify the specific place of the short-circuit, but they are able to identify the cause and fix it?”

      I think you got it backwards. Tesla was able to identify the specific place of the short-circuit (distribution box), but was unable to identify the cause. Per Tesla’s Norway communications manager (from the article):

      “The cause was a short-circuit in the distribution box in the car. . . . but due to the damage to the car, we could not definitely identify the exact cause of the short-circuit.”

      The software update isn’t a fix to what caused the short circuit, since that is unknown. But it is a fix in the sense that the software upgrade will supposedly allow the car to detect a potential short and stop charging before a fire breaks out. Apparently prior to the software update, the Model S’s software did not the ability to monitor for and detect a short, and to shut down charging.

      This is the Teslarati translation of the source story in Norwgian:

      “Nevertheless, the company says it will update the software package in the Model S to provide extra security during charging. It tells VG [local Norway newspaper] the update will include a diagnostic solution to prevent charging if a potential short circuit is detected.”

      I’m assuming nothing was lost in translation.

      With regards to a fire suppression system, IIRC the Tesla battery pack has a patented heat-activated foam that is supposed to suppress fires in the battery pack. Perhaps this foam can also be applied to the “distribution box” where the fire started in the Norway Model S.

      Anybody know what a distribution box is, and where the distribution box is on the Model X.

  5. Three Electrics says:

    In summary: they think it’s a short circuit, but they don’t know exactly where.

    They’re going to attempt to fix it in software, even though, again, they don’t know where the short circuit lies.

    They can’t do a recall, because they couldn’t pinpoint the fault and, hey, it’s just the first time. For the same reasons, they won’t attempt a redesign or any other hardware changes.

    I think the likelihood of this occurring again is high, simply because short circuits are tricky things: by the time the software takes action (assuming that’s even possible) , the car is already on fire.

    1. ffbj says:

      Well, high likelihood? I in 2.5 million charges, no, that is very low likelihood, although I find your skepticism normal and in this case at least reasonable, regarding other questions surrounding this incident.

    2. wavelet says:

      The story seems a bit odd. If they haven’t been able to identify the exact cause (meaning, recreate the exact scenario in a lab), how does Tesla know the probability of this happening (and that probability is meaningless without discussing conditions)?

      Let alone, how do they know the fix will indeed eliminate the issue?
      Additionally, it sounds exceedingly odd a short-circuit can be fixed in SW. It’s likelier that SW can circumvent the effect of a certain type of short… But there may be others.

      All that said, given the high voltages & amperages of EV charging, I’m surprised there haven’t been a lot more cases of fire. I’d have expected there were many possible failure modes, and that it would take time to get a handle on all of them.

      1. sven says:

        I wonder if the heat-activated gel that Tesla uses in its battery packs could be used in the “distribution box” to suppress any fires that break out there. Anybody know what a distribution box is, and where it is on the Model S?

        From an InsideEVs news article about a previous Model S battery fire:

        “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.”

        http://insideevs.com/tesla-model-s-fire-after-accident-now-confirmed-to-be-battery-pack-related/

      2. JakeY says:

        The probability is simply taking from the number of incidents (1) and number of charge events thus far (2.5 million). Thus the probability is low.

        1. wavelet says:

          Maybe you’re right, but if so, that’s completely ridiculous because it has no predictive power.

          1. JakeY says:

            Well that is basically the real world empirical data. The predictive power is that based on the previous track record, the probability of this happening is extremely low.

            If there was a severe issue with the design, something like this would have happened a long time ago.

    3. Model S says:

      Superchargers have been around for 4 years now…

      very few incidents like this have occurred ….

  6. Mxs says:

    I agree that the article is written to rather commend Tesla …. Every fire is a very serious event, more so when it was started in the vehicle, not outside of it.

    I am just wondering how would the article sound if it was Bolt burnt to the ground?

    BTW, is the owner getting a new car from Tesla? I hope so …

    1. pk says:

      That’s what insurance is for.

  7. Foo says:

    Wow… amazing difference between the calm and reasonable statements from the European officials (regarding the reality of EV fires) and those that we might have heard if this fire had happened in the Us.

  8. Joeski1 says:

    I’ll take the free update..and continue to drive and charge my Tesla S 90D both at home and at available superchargers stations.. thanks for the Teslarati link..I dled the app in my phone..2.5 million supercharger charging stations..35 million at home and destination charging sessions.. has ANY ICE powered vehicle line been refueled that many times and only had 1 fire incident?? Or just 3 accidental fires over 6 or 7 years of production? ? Very doubtful. .. GM is not a trusted brand.. after owning GMs for over 24 years I can honestly say I would not consider a GM ever again.. in fact I defected from GM in 2002 with my first Acura which I still own with 127K on it.. and now I believe I lease the finest vehicle ever produced in the USA.. or anywhere… go Tesla.. Elon is the king!!

  9. Bill Howland says:

    Other cars (including the Roadster I once owned) handled short-circuit troubles with that modern concept know as a ‘FUSE’.

    If we’ve been given honest answers here, I think much has been lost in translation because on the surface, taken literally, there has been no satisfactory answer.

    Didn’t that guy with the hat who always had his nephew in the car who always made supercharger videos do a heat video of his car connector overheating when at a supercharger? So, apparently not as rare as some of the commenters claim.

    1. Djoni says:

      Strange comment here about the Tesla solution.
      Fuse are absolutely superior as far as total short circuit goes.
      Much less so in an arc fault, ground fault or misconnection fault.
      But there’s is now GFCI an arc fault breaker that just do react correctly on those kind of fault.
      Any electrical fault has a signature, and a faulty junction would also give some pretty unusual signal.
      Impedance, resistance, voltage and amperage would just have abnormal shift that could be monitor and if so trigger either a reduction in power by the BMS or a complete shutdown.
      This is no rocket science, you just have to be willing to applied it.
      That’s what Tesla do and that is pretty much better than many other legacy manufacturer.

      1. jamcl3 says:

        You are correct, this was possibly an arc-fault situation. AC arc fault detection is routine these days, I am not so sure about DC arc faults. Has the NFPA even finished the DC arc flash research? I understand that the Navy has a great deal of expertise (an experience with) DC arc faults, but military technology is not always commercialized.

  10. mustang_sallad says:

    My theory: the short occurred due to a mix up in the circuits that allow both AC and DC charging using the same pins. Tesla’s figured out a software fix that will address the bug that caused that mix up, but has decided that this circuit is too expensive to include in the Model 3, and introduces necessary risk, and will instead adopt CCS and roll out a Supercharger to CCS adaptor, not to mention a Tesla to J1772 AC adaptor.

    EV charging standards battle over. Everybody lives happily ever after.

    You heard it here first!

    1. mustang_sallad says:

      I honestly think that there is enough momentum behind CCS now for this to be plausible.

    2. sven says:

      Bold prediction.

  11. Big Solar says:

    “but there is no reason to believe that electric cars burn more often than other cars”

    Well right, in fact there are thousands of reasons to believe just the opposite.