Tesla Motors Accuses Reuters of Poor Journalism in Reporting Model S Garage Fire

DEC 19 2013 BY ERIC LOVEDAY 42

We sense this one’s going to grab a lot of headlines, similar to when the New York Times brodered a Tesla Model S.

This time, Tesla is taking aim at the misleading article put forth by Reuters in which the news outlet is being accused by Tesla of simply trying to “find some way to put the words “fire” and “Tesla” in the same headline.”

Poor Reporting on Behalf of Reuters?

Poor Reporting on Behalf of Reuters?

As we pointed out in our initial coverage of the garage fire, several of the statements put forth by Reuters seemed questionable.  Reuters’ use of “could,” “may” and “cause of the fire is unclear” are especially suspect to us.

Here’s a snippet of that Reuters‘ report, which we think highlights the shaky ground Reuters was trying to tiptoe on:

“A fire department in Southern California said a garage fire may have been caused by an overheated charging system in a Tesla Model S sedan.”

“…the Tesla-supplied charging system or the connection at the electricity panel on the wall of the garage of a single-family home could have caused the fire.”

“The fire occurred as a result of an electrical failure in the charging system for an electric vehicle,” said a report by the fire authority, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters.”

“The report also emphasizes that the cause of the fire is unclear.”

“The most probable cause of this fire is a high resistance connection at the wall socket or the Universal Mobile Connector from the Tesla charging system” which was plugged into a 240-volt wall socket, the report said.”

“The fire occurred on November 15 in Irvine, California. The possible link between the fire and the Tesla Model S was not reported previously.”

It’s evident to us from that passage that Reuters was having difficulty in deciding if the Tesla Model S may or even could be the possible link.  Reuters should have stopped there.  The use of those words alone should throw up red flags everywhere, so we’re not sure how this got past the editorial desk.

If those suspect words weren’t enough, then the following statement (sent directly from Tesla Motors to Reuters prior to Reuters releasing the article) should’ve convinced Reuters to at least put the article on hold:

Model S

Model S

“Tesla is aware of this incident, which occurred over a month ago. Based on our inspection of the site, the car and the logs, we know that this was absolutely not the car, the battery or the charge electronics. There was a fire at the wall socket where the Model S was plugged in, but the car itself was not part of the fire. The cable was fine on the vehicle side; the damage was on the wall side. Our inspection of the car and the battery made clear that neither were the source and were in fact functioning normally after the incident. In addition, a review of the car’s logs showed that the battery had been charging normally, and there were no fluctuations in temperature or malfunctions within the battery or the charge electronics.”

Reuters decided to publish the questionable article, which convinced Tesla to issue this response:

All of the above information was provided to the journalists and editors at Reuters responsible for the article. It is therefore disappointing that they would choose to publish as “news” a misleading article about an event that occurred more than a month ago that was not caused by the car and that was already covered by the Orange County Register. It appears that their objective was simply to find some way to put the words “fire” and “Tesla” in the same headline. The journalists and editors who created the story have patently ignored hundreds of deaths and thousands of serious injuries unequivocally caused by gasoline car fires, instead choosing to write about a garage fire where there were no injuries and the cause was clearly not the car.

Op-Ed Time:

As a journalist, I will say that if I could not definitively make a direct connection between a vehicle and a garage fire, then publishing such an article would be purposely misleading.  Using words like could or may is out of the question when the nature of the topic has the potential to topple an automaker.  If you must use those words to cover your back, then the article should not make it to print.

It’s my belief that the half-empty gas can that may have been located in the corner of the garage could have caused the fire.  Until there’s undeniable proof, anything could have caused the fire.  Hopefully, that proves my point.

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42 Comments on "Tesla Motors Accuses Reuters of Poor Journalism in Reporting Model S Garage Fire"

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moving on….

“A Fire department in Southern California said” If Tesla is upset with anyone it should be the FD. Everyone knows when an offical agency makes a statement about a newsworthy event the press is going to run it. I’m not defending the press, just stating a reality.

I have to disagree with your opinion. Your stance in previous articles about Tesla been to defend Tesla first, using your position as a journalist to advocate toward that end.

Here, Reuter’s reported exactly what the report said and noted that ultimately, the report also emphasizes that the cause of the fire is unclear.”

“The most probable cause of this fire is a high resistance connection at the wall socket or the Universal Mobile Connector from the Tesla charging system” which was plugged into a 240-volt wall socket, the report said.

Reuters prevented a balanced article, including Tesla’s response.

That’s fine with me. In writing an article such as this I open myself to being criticized. I do believe some will support my viewpoints, while others will not. I honestly have no problems with anyone disagreeing with me. If I did, then I shouldn’t be a writer.

I do wish Reuters would have issued the fire department reports in its entirety though. That would certainly helps us in deciding where we stand on this one.

Tesla had the option of publishing the report too, as I know they have it in hand.

I agree with all of your points, Eric.

May I add; Sadly, in politics this type of journalism happens all of the time. We have appeared to have gotten rather used to it where politics are concerned.

Totally agree with Taser54. As noted by others, and I’ve seen it myself personally, these nema 14-50P ends that Tesla supply run hot at the Toronto Tesla Service Center, of all places. IMO, I didn’t want to be forced to purchase the plug/umc combination for the S because it just looked too chincy. The KEY POINT here is that Tesla supplies the UMC and the plug end that goes into the wall outlet. Let’s compare the way GM handled this issue. Some volt cords were overheating. In my house, with a “Spec Grade” wall recepticle, I deemed the Temperature Rise satisfactory and safe, with the initial product supplied with the 2011 Volt. The owners’ manual says you have to have an electrician inspect your recepticle to make sure it is working adequately. Therefore, putting those 2 facts together in my mind holds GM Harmless. However, besides beefing up a battery that had never caught fire in-service, they also: 1). Upgraded the Attachment cord to #14 AWG wire. 2). Later for the 2013’s, did 1). above plus upgraded the WHOLE attachment car cord to #14 AWG. 3). Then later still, they did both 1). and 2). and reset the default current… Read more »

Addressing the adapter plug provided by Tesla and the wall socket- wired by homeowner (or electriction) is what we appear to be left with.

We’ll see what the insurance investigator determines.

Bill:

You are make a number of assumptions there–for all anyone knows, the fire was caused by a faulty socket or an improper installation. As the FD report says, they cannot identify a specific cause, just a location.

O

@ Omar,

Well, faulty socket is an assumption, isn’t it?

Now, a typical household wall sockets are usually NOT rated for a long duration of EV charging. It typically needs to be upgraded, cleaned, inspected before assuming a long duration load of the EVs.

In this case, Tesla is at least at fault for NOT “emphasis” about this point to the owner of the car.

an improper installation in this case would have been the owner. He is the guy who plugs it in.

That was my point–it could been faulty install, a defective socket or the UMC adaptor–no one knows for sure. Bill makes the assumption the UMC plug is at fault here:

“Contrast this to Tesla’s response, where they do not make any correction to a known problem and accept no accountability to a fire involved with their attachment plug right at the origin of the fire, when there is a past history of these things melting.”

Being at the origin of the fire does not mean it had anything to do with the fire.

O

Omar, I didnt say that Te sla caused the fire. What I did say is that Tesla is completely avoiding the place where the actuall fire wasz.

Regarding mmf’s comment that household ckts are not rated for continuaous duty, they are if they are 80% rated. 40 amps is 80% of 50 amps, therefore, this household ckt can handle 40 amps indefinitely , continuously.

You fail to enumerate my “assumptions”, so please do. In fact I have made no ‘assumptions’: I have personally witnessed a high temperature nema 14-50p plug end charging a Model S in for service. The voltage at the dashboard was 199, while the voltage at my roadster’s dashboard was 203 off the same panelboard feeding both cars. So there was 4 volts additional pressure (voltage) drop comparing my car charging at 70 amps to the model s charging at 40. I’ll allow an additional 1 1/2 volts tops drop to the branch circuit running the S, but no more. (The outlet for the nema 14-50 was closer to the panelboard than my roadsters’ clippercreek was). This is the only assumption I’m making. There is still an additional 2 1/2 volt drop at 40 amps that must be accounted for. Thats an additional 100 watts minimum, or if considering the entire branch circuit 160 watts (around 530 btu/hour) heat more than the Roadster circuit. There’s actually an additional implied assumption here, but the main point is: There is a heating loss on these UMC/ 14-50p assemblies that come with the car; I’ve personally felt the heat. I didn’t assume it.

Not doubting your observations, but you are making a leap from that to this particular event without any data to back that up. All the FD determined was that the fire resulted from some high resistance connection in the vicinity of the plug/socket. That could just as daily been an improperly installed socket or a partially plugged-in UMC.

I am not saying the UMC is exonerated, but there is also no data to say it is the cause. The NEMA 14-50 seems to be the most popular charging option for the Model S, so one would assume a fundamental design flaw would reveal itself more often.

Omar, please reread the above paragraph, There was 4 volts less at the model S than there was at my roadster charging at 70 amps versus 40, and the s was closer to the panel board. There’s your data, now explain to me why the model s had less voltage at the car and the charging facilities were getting hot for the model s, while my roadster’s stuff remained cool.

This is in the Toronto Tesla Service shop itself (Mississauga). Are you saying Tesla’s own factory authorized service shop is improperly wired also, or that Canadians don’t know how to handle 40 amps? If so, why was my roadster cool running while charging at 70 amps?

That’s really stretching. The Service center wasn’t the one that burned down now is it? The socket got warmer to the touch but that’s still a far cry from a fire.

I know for a fact that a badly connected 14-50 socket has been the cause of a socket melt for a UMC before and from what I hear from electricians, it’s a common problem. The issue is the connections in the socket isn’t properly screwed down. It’s not a huge issue for intermittent loads, but when it’s a continuous load (like EV charging) it’s going to cause heat to build up and melt the socket or cause a fire.

I don’t know what is stretching. I admittedly don’t know what the cause of the fire is, not being there. But some of Tesla’s electrical stuff (indeed alot of EV type stuff – my own Schneider EVLINK 30 amp charger dock included), just runs too hot for me to get a good feeling about it.

With my Roadster, I’m Glad I didn’t plunk down $1500 for its UMC (with the roadster, its optional). Another Roadster owner in the area to me has already burned out 2 of his and is on his third (all replaced under warranty, except now the warranty is up).

I just bought a converter cord and used what I thought would be an ok EVSE. Turned out I had to redesign the thing to get it to work, and then 30 amps for an 8 hour charge made the cord get hot, so I had to get rid of Schneider’s dumb faston connectors and installed box lugs to eliminate a source of heat.

@Bill Howland
It’s a stretch because you are assuming/implying hot/warm cord = cause of fire. There is so far no evidence of this yet.

Well, the Volt cable was so hot that it caused second degree burns, I doubt the UMC was that hot:
http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1063283_got-a-2011-chevy-volt-check-your-110v-charge-cable

Plus it was a widespread issue that was reported in the media (so GM had to respond publicly).

The old UMC does get hot and Tesla already had a redesigned “rev B” version to address this (although they didn’t go to the media for it like GM). Tesla has been replacing older versions with the new version whenever possible.

Yeah, but the ‘old Volt Cable’ was fine if it was plugged into a ‘spec grade’ outlet as the owner’s manual implied (as it is in my house). They didn’t use that jargon, but indicated in so many words that it was a high powered device and needed a certified good outlet. The one at my house only ran luke warm at 12 amps (much cooler than the tesla stuff).

It depends on how you look at it Jakey. The Volt ‘only’ causes second degree burns if misapplied. The S burns down garages if misapplied, which I keep stating in these blogs there may be some degree of culpability with the owner. I’ve seen enough fellow “Electricians” that are frankly a bit of an embarrassment, and take chances I’d never take.

“The Volt ‘only’ causes second degree burns if misapplied. The S burns down garages if misapplied, which I keep stating in these blogs there may be some degree of culpability with the owner.”
Again there’s the base assumption that the UMC caused the fire. Keep in mind a Volt burned down a garage too when “misapplied” by your same logic:
http://gm-volt.com/forum/showthread.php?7727-Carport-Electrical-Fire-While-Charging&highlight=Charging+Fire

@JakeY and @Omar Both you guys are assuming I’ve already assigned blame. If you carefully read what I say, I’ve never said that. What I HAVE said is that i’ve been around alot of electrical equipment, and that stuff that gets too hot that shouldn’t gives me a very bad feeling. I was uncomfortable with the Schneider EVLink I bought getting too hot for my comfort since by its very nature, I have to leave the thing unattended for 8 hours. I was concerned enough about it that I installed a Smoke Detector over the unit. I explained how I redesigned the unit so that it is cool running at the end of 8 hours. Schneider on the other hand, couldn’t care less because they said “It works with a Leaf or a Volt, so that’s all we care about. (!!!!)”. I’m sure it does, because the thing doesn’t overheat at 15 amps. I’m running the thing at its full rating of 30 amps, which generates 4 times as much heat. I also mentioned that I’m very uncomfortable with Tesla’s response. A tesla product was right at the source of the fire, this is undeniable. For Tesla to start yelling… Read more »

@Jakey

No, again I’m not really saying that Tesla is culpable.

The garage would not have burned down if there was no charging going on in the garage.

Not assigning blame, but that conclusion is self evident.

It was not a kicked over gasoline Can that started the fire. The fire was electrical in origin, even if Tesla ultimately is held harmless.

Not to get into a silly discussion about another fire where a volt was present, but I disagree with THAT electrician’s conclusion.

The fact that the Volt was drawing 12 amps or not doesn’t matter. There is nothing about the attachment plug on the Voltec that could cause smoke back at the breaker panel.

If they had plugged in a hair dryer the same thing would have happened.

There isn’t anything instructive about examining Rickety electrical installations, other than showing caution is advised, and smoking electrical installations need to be immediately rectified, whether a car is charging or not. A 20 ampere imballance is not excessive at all and is not the cause of any smoking. We wouldn’t have large neutral wires if there was never to be any planned imballance.

“The old UMC does get hot and Tesla already had a redesigned “rev B” version to address this”

The “rev B” UMC also has the same melting problem as the older cable. The OP and other posters in the following thread had a “rev B” UMB and both the UMB and adapter melted.

http://www.teslamotorsclub.com/showthread.php/18092-Schmelted-UMC-NEMA-14-50

“Well, the Volt cable was so hot that it caused second degree burns, I doubt the UMC was that hot”

If a UMC is hot enough to melt, it’s hot enough to cause second degree burns.

I’d say that rather than Tesla, the fire (as analyzed in the FD report) indicates that L2 home charging does present a risk equivalent to operating a dryer or a range. Like the latter two, the L2 circuit needs to be modern and adequately wired – and even so, one must be on the lookout and check it periodically.

The other day we almost had an electrical fire in the circuit leading to my wife’s pottery kiln. We’ve always been concerned about fire coming from the kiln itself (where temps reach >2000 F) – but surprisingly it’s the circuit, in this case the socket, that proved to be the weakest link.

Ironically, the outlet to the kiln (50A NEMA) is precisely the most common one used to power L2 charging (which we’re not doing yet; but we’ll need to do a careful evaluation when we do).

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

Are you running an adequate or larger gauge wire from your breaker panel to the outlet? For 50A you probably should be running at least 6ga, and for distances of 20+ feet 4ga is appropriate.

My 60A charger has 6ga copper, but it’s about 3ft long to the breaker 🙂

Oh yeah, it’s 4 gauge, plus a far thicker wire to the 100A subpanel handling the entire garage. It’s all according to code (although not formally inspected…)

It was a loose contact between the socket and the plug that had caused the near-fire.

“so we’re not sure how this got past the editorial desk.”

That’s easy. They wanted, and paid for what they got. The reality is news services can be malicious, just like any other periodic rag.

Since it has been a month, somebody should know the wire size used in that home, and how far it traveled to that socket. That would be real journalism.

My circuit is 50amps and the draw is 3.3kw (15amps). I’m thinking a Volt electrical fire in my garage is highly unlikely.

Probably, but please note that the 15 amp draw is on 240V and your 50 Amp rating might be for 120V. Check it out…

Hmm, when you say 50A, are you referring to the size of the wiring and/or the breakers?
Connecting a 15 or 20A-rated device (with wiring matching that rating) to a circuit capable of delivering 50A for extended periods would be actually quite unsafe.

Io, there may be nothing wrong with Lobec’s installation, if he has a Leviton 400 EVSE for instance. The maximum draw from a Rav4EV would be 40 amps, however if he is using it to charge his volt, then 15 amps is a reasonable draw. The 40 amp unit would be placed on a 50 amp breaker, totally legally, since it is a continuous load.

It looks like sensationalist reporting to me because the “newsworthy” element is non-existent without prof…so,like so much illegitimate news in all the medias,the “Hype”(much like the horse)was put before the cart. With the continued rise of “trial by media” and the trumped-up,emotion based non-story’s that fill today’s “news” reports I can see the wisdom of the founding fathers use of a republic.If we take it one step further,knowing that the same manipulated cattle that consider this news,are also the threshold/standard for voter acquisition,the prudent choice would be a direct democracy.Every time we use fear to buffer reality…it becomes our poison pill.

What does it say about an agency like Reuters to write an article about something that happened a month ago?

TSLA went down 5% today…. so Musk et al. have

1. A good reason to be pissed off, and
2. Their homework cut out for them about how to deal with negative publicity. If you’re going to see red and swing swords every single time someone says something unnice about you – at some point the media is just going to start popping out those negative story just in order to enjoy your reaction 😉

I think you are right, Assaf. Tesla ought to lighten up and wait a bit longer before reacting to things like this. They probably don’t agree, thinking that the best defense is a strong offense. But car sales are not football games, and do require subtlety in certain situations where responses are given.

I guess, but taking the high road is not proving particularly effective as most media are more interested in getting clicks than being accurate. Perhaps calling a few folks on the carpet will force writers and editors to be a bit more accurate?

What exactly was inaccurate in the Reuters news story?

Respectfully disagree. Call a spade a spade. That’s all Tesla is doing.

I would be curious to know whether the author of the Reuters piece is shorting Tesla stock. I believe that is a valid question.

The Reuters’ article was good journalism. Tesla and Tesla fanatics as a history of slandering critics, realists and safety advocates. Bad journalists are siding with Tesla to downplay and cover-up tesla safety problems. Tesla has poorly designed charge connections that are known for over heating, causing fires and causing injuries. A firefighter was injured responding to the Tesla related garage fire. Allegedly a Tesla owner was burned on the hand and arm pulling off overheated and burning charge connector. Many of these poorly designed Tesla connections have overheated and failed. They are known for melting. Greedy people are covering up these problems.

The way Tesla has designed its charge connectors, is likely to put undue stress and possibly cause wall outlets to fail. Their adapter acts as a lever to increase the force on an outlet, so someone pulling on the cord, the weight of the module, and anyone tripping or tuging on the cord, the force is multiplied. The typical configuration as many connections close together which concentrates the heat and increases the odds of a bad connection and increases the odds of a fire.