Video: Elon Musk Discusses Tesla Model S Fires at Dealbook Conference


After the third Tesla Model S fire, Tesla Motor CEO Elon Musk became rather vocal.

Musk Discusses Model S Fires at DealBook Conference

Musk Discusses Model S Fires at DealBook Conference

Musk fired shots at some media outlets for inaccurate and out-of-line reporting and then Tesla’s CEO found himself in the position of having to answer Model S fire questions at the New York Times’ annual DealBook Conference (aka Opportunities for Tomorrow Conference) on November 12 in NYC.

After watching this interview, it’s our belief that Musk is fully capable of calming fears.  He does it with ease here and there’s something so genuine and sincere with Musk that we’re almost forced to believe him.

Is it the case that Musk truly cares?  We think so, but watch the clip yourself and then let us know if you think that’s the case.

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30 Comments on "Video: Elon Musk Discusses Tesla Model S Fires at Dealbook Conference"

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One fire for every 1300 non Tesla cars.?? Is that really true? Sounds a lot higher incidence than I would expect.

I think thats for gas cars, not every non tesla car…

By some estimates, there are about 200,000-300,000 gas-powered car fires per year in the US. You do the math.

Thousands of deaths and injuries per year result from the gas-powered car fires, many of which occur when the cars *are not even moving*! The major of the fires are caused by “mechanical failure”.

The mainstream press is grossly over-sensationalizing these few Tesla fires, in which nobody was injured or killed. Where’s the outrage about all the fires occurring with the, statistically, must more dangerous gas-powered cars?

OK I answered my own question. Elons statement is true if you consider all gas car fire. This MIT article disputes the use of the data that way. They say you should look at how many gas cars catch on fire THAT WERE IN A COLLISION.

That doesn’t change his core argument though. You are still less far likely to be involved in a fire in a Model S than in a random gasoline car picked off the road. Thus no need for the mass panic in the media.

Also picking collisions is a bit misleading, given out of a sample of 3 fires, 100% of the Tesla’s fires are from collision. That can be a result of other factors, like Model S being involved in more collisions than other vehicles, than anything to do with a safety issue with the car. It also does not tell you how likely a Model S catches on fire after a collision (there have been many reported collisions of a Model S where no fire occurred).

So tired of hearing about this stuff lol

So true. It started off being interesting, because FIRE OMG! And we all had that image of the burned out Fiskars and Prii (Priuses?) at the loading dock post hurricane/flood. But now, after three fires where everyone walks away, with ample warning of the thermal event… Yeah. I’m tired too.

Hey Elon, why don’t you compare your car fire ‘averages’ with other US EVs? Not so hot (oops) compared to Leaf, eh?

How many total car fires FOR ALL MY 2013s are there compared to your car? How about ones that caught fire from hitting road debris? Kind of narrows the field of available car fires to count doesn’t it?

This is deflection pure and simple. Take an issue about fires (that totaled the cars, btw) with a very similar causality and compare that to hitting an iceberg? Really?

Leafs may not catch fire, but their batteries wear out way too soon. People have lost capacity in Leaf batteries in 3 years that should take 10 years to happen. Far more people than have had their Teslas catch fire.
Then there’s range; Teslas have, on average, 3x the range of the Leaf, and driving a Leaf at 80 MPH, you’d better not have too many exits to go to your destination. Thus, I would be willing to bet that Leafs have far less cumulative high speed freeway miles than Teslas, and thus less chance of running over the same type of debris at high speeds.
Also, the 2 Model S’s that hit road debris were models that had road lowering air suspension. Raising them back up to normal may prevent other similar mishaps.
And finally, Tesla has said they will replace those cars, and any others that catch on fire in similar circumstances. Compare that to Nissan’s attitude towards covering their lame batteries.

The Leaf numbers don’t mean much yet because just because they haven’t had an incident right now doesn’t mean they won’t in the future (it could simply be their driving patterns reduce their collision rate).

As for numbers for 2013 MY, everyone asks for that, but no one has the statistics. And there’s also a good argument that the risk of fire doesn’t really increase for the Model S as it ages (a fire from cell puncture does not really depend on age).

“How about ones that caught fire from hitting road debris? Kind of narrows the field of available car fires to count doesn’t it?”
That narrows the field, but you like most people, also forget that it also narrows the numbers in the denominator (not just the numerator). So you need to divide cars on fire from hitting road debris with cars that hit road debris in the first place to figure an actual probability after such an event (same with comparison to 2013 MY vehicles).

Haven’t all of these fires happened at either long at distance highway speeds, (where a Leaf/iMiev is not likely to do very much highway driving). Or at a speed the Leaf/iMiev is incapable of reaching (100mph in Mexico).

Other than that, yes. It is deflection because no one was hurt, and crashes happen. These events don’t deserve so much hyperbole and screaming. The pack is well protected. That doesn’t rule out the possibility of this happening. By the metric the media has used on Tesla, Volvo should be inundated with all the reports of deadly crashes that happen in their “safe” vehicles. Maybe we should just calm down…

I like Tesla, and everything that they are about. But it is still painful to watch them learn how to do press-relations. They/Elon seems (judging from the TMC forums) to have a handle on customer relations. Buuuut come on gals and guys, Tesla is full of smart people, you should be able to do a smooth more transparent public storyline. Hopefully this will just blow over in a few more weeks. Especially now that the stock has cooled off…

Loboc- What car do you drive, let’s check numbers and compare to Tesla.

Both the Volt and the LEAF should be included in this comparison. Combined, they have about ten times the total EV fleet miles than the Model S. There have been no battery fires whatsoever, if you discount the Volt incident three weeks following a government crash test. This is very significant, and goes to show that batteries can be design to be very safe.

This is most likely linked to the choice of the main cathode material (manganese) in both vehicles, cell composition and energy density. Yes, this type of chemistry is temperature sensitive, but degradation can be effectively neutralized by a TMS, as the Volt has demonstrated. It’s a bit disheartening to see the LEAF being repeatedly portrayed as a quasi neighborhood vehicle, which does not go on freeway instead of grasping the significance of these numbers.

While the Model S will likely have lower overall incidence of fires than a gas car, batteries and other energy storage can designed and be even better. Why not focus on that, instead of deriding competition, which might have done something right for a change?

I’d rather be in a car that “MAY” catch on fire “ONLY” after a collision than in a car that can catch on fire on its own due to an unexpected malfunction. I guess I just don’t like surprises.


And, one that doesn’t engulf the passenger compartment in a holocaust of fire.

I’m rather surprised someone has not caught this point: Musk is being disingenuous. The second fire was not “SMALL”, there was a horrendous BANG and Brilliant Flash of light that seemed to envelop everything including the passenger Cabin. Who knows what went on before or after the short video! Also unknown is that , had the humans NOT been able to get out for some reason, were there any flying projectiles that would have killed or maimed them? Here he goes calling it the safest car again. the NHTSA has increased their warning up to now a Threat of Tesla being disqualified from their ratings system since Musk is misusing their results. This is the second time they have specifically warned Tesla NOT to do this. Another thing: 20 year old cars on their last legs are being averaged in with brand new model “s”‘s, and the totally different design of my Roadster of which Musk can take no credit since the car existed before his hostile take over of the company. Musk’s arrogance seems to be that he can keep the stock price up as long as he can avoid the details, and counts on his audience’s ignorance. I’m… Read more »
Wow, so much FUD in one post. So, lets see…. 1) The big flash and band was likely the 12V battery exploding–you know the same one thats in every car. The pack itself is designed to vent down and away from the car so there is no pressure buildup and hence no explosions. I all three fires, the damage was contained to the front of the car, did not enter the passenger compartment and all occupants walked away. 2) Well, we actually do know what on before: the driver lost control of his car, hit a wall at a high rate of speed, smashed through that, toppled a tree, then both he and his passenger were able to walk (run) away. 3) Which brings us up to your next point, which is irrelevant, in another car, the likely would not have survived long enough to worry about the 12V exploding. But if I humor you for a second, the plastic battery is on the other side of a metal firewall 4) As has been pointed out on this site, the VSS score is a legit score, proved by NHTSA and it is better than any other car tested. NHSTA may… Read more »

You are living in a different Universe man, I know a big explosion when I see one.

No sour grapes here, my car is totally paid for and I’m satisfied with it.

Sorry to burst your bubble. Try offering some proof before you dis what I say.

The NHTSA has threatened to remove them from their ratings system due to repeated violations.

Anyway, the safest car in exisitence is the Chevy Volt, which I also own.

What looks like a brillant flash on a mobile phone cam is probably nothing like as exciting when looked at with the naked eye!

At the end of the day I believe that the best measure of whether the car is safe is to ask the people that were in the accident whether they would get the car again.

Most people that have suffered serious injury or death in a car accident, would get a different vehicle next time (if they could).

Bill I agree with you that was not what I would consider a small fire. That said small is a relative term. Musk calls it the safest car ever built because that is what the NHTSA told him it was. The proof is the VSS score which is better than any other car ever tested. NHTSA doesn’t like or want Musk letting people know about it but they have not in any way disputed that number. You say Musk’s takeover was hostile? Well I haven’t looked into it enough to be able to make a call on that one way or the other. In the end I think it is a ridiculous thing to bring up because almost everyone in the know says Tesla would not exist now without him doing what he has done. If it required “hostile” action for Tesla to still exist and bring us these great cars than so be it. We will all be better off for it. I do agree wholeheartedly with you in the fallacy of using the numbers for all ICE car fires regardless of age and then comparing them with the brand new Model S. I should think though that it… Read more »
There are 2 versions of the Video of the Mexican Tesla – by the way this is the only collision that Worries me (because of the explosions), fires #1, and #3 I’m totally ok with since it was “just” fire. The YouTube video has the flash and explosion muffled. The one to use is the one posted here on There, it was a BIG bang, and the flash undoubtedly overloaded the camera taking the shot, but my point is, this was a very short video. Was there an even bigger explosion not seen outside the video? If these were criminals in the Mexican fire, how can it be said they ordered a new Tesla? I think the owners repurchasing a Tesla would only be fires #1 and #3, indeed, if I was the owner of #1, or #3, I would repurchase a new Model S since I’ve gone on record saying I consider the S as “Satisfactoryily Safe”. And per the NHTSA, they say Tesla is misusing their results. Why can’t people here accept that conclusion? I dont think its the safest, that honor going to the Chevy Volt, but it is good enough that I would take the… Read more »
“…..You say Musk’s takeover was hostile? Well I haven’t looked into it enough to be able to make a call on that one way or the other. In the end I think it is a ridiculous thing to bring up because almost everyone in the know says Tesla would not exist now without him doing what he has done…..” Excuse me, but ‘ridiculous’ is a strong word. Ask Martin Eberhart if he believes he was treated fairly. I’m not sure Tesla would not have survived with him at the Helm. And the car was basically in existence. To Musk’s credit, he did bankroll the car while still ramping up production, and obviously it was a roll of the dice financially for him, which paid off handsomely. And he’s gotten away with things a person with a different personality wouldn’t have been able to get away with, such as deflecting problems, increasing the price of all his products (including the Roadster by $20,000 AFTER taking non-refundable deposits). But in the end, your argument boils down to Apple can’t survive without Steve Jobs. Apple seems to be doing rather well at the moment without him. EVERYone knows tesla wouldn’t be here without… Read more »
I said ridiculous because a hostile takeover is not on topic here and is a silly thing for US to be upset about. It was just your personal aside seemly to vent some of your frustration with Musk. I have no doubt Martin believes he was treated wrongly and that may indeed be the case. Musk has made many bad decisions in his life. We all do. Why are you still steamed about some wrong Musk did to someone else years in the past? Musk has shown himself capable and willing to make the hard decisions to keep Tesla afloat. Sometimes what is required is going to hurt some people’s ego or pocketbook but if one truly loves the company and what it stands for than they will be able to put it into that greater context and move on. Don’t put words in my mouth. You are the one bringing up Apple and Steve Jobs. I do not believe what you just wrote in that regard. Whether or not they are “doing rather well” without Jobs is up for debate but it is not a conversation I care to have. What I am saying is that without Musk in… Read more »

Basically, cars are not a religious experience for me. Sorry If I unintentionally offended your religious beliefs. The tone of your VENT is one of ruffled feathers. But there is no need to continually insult me, thick skinned though I am. But by the same token, I’m allowed to have an opinion also, seeing as I have 2 EV’s of my own. Its ok to agree to disagree, which we do here.

You might do yourself a favor to see the history, but if not, its no skin off my back.

Bill I am sorry if I was offensive to you. That certainly is not my goal. In fact I wouldn’t have spent the time to write those posts if I didn’t think you were an intelligent and reasonable individual. We can agree to disagree.

BTW I too am an EV owner. At least we can agree on that:)

Bill, thank you for this perspective. Based on the discussions I participated in, I have to agree that there seems to be much disinformation and perhaps even naivete when it comes to lithium-ion batteries. And perhaps even more interesting, whenever a potential weakness or a design flaw of an EV is discussed, there appear to be scores of commenters, who seem to take the topic personally or believe that by talking about a potential this car, and potentially all EVs, could suffer irreparable harm.

I really don’t understand that. While electric motors and batteries are familiar to most, we simply don’t have much experience with this technology in automotive drivetrain. Additionally, batteries are chemical beasts, and their properties can vary widely based on the materials used. Despite best intentions, some things can be overlooked or get de-prioritized, only to cause expected difficulties or problems in the field.

It would be good to help identify these issues, as it would help bring about faster maturing of this technology, and accelerated adoption, which is what I think most readers here want.

Very Philanthropic of you George, yes, sometimes constructive criticism of the car translates by some people into perceived criticism of their mother. 3 of the Roadster’s best powertrain engineers died in a helicopter crash. Although young in years, those guys seem to have been much more conservative than the current guys. In the roadster, its almost impossible to have battery trauma, confirmed by the lack of even the hint of fire years later. To do what you say, namely Identify Issues, read David Nolan’s illuminating report on today’s GreenCarReports: Nolan is upset that his drain from his Tesla S worked out to 135 kilowatt-hours/ month. For some low mileage drivers this is probably more than what they actually drive. Musk has gotten himself into a bit of a corner, promising solutions prior to their arrival (!), as Nolan documents. My problem is not the vampire drain as such, but the apparent Great Increase in Discharge during 0-10 degree fahrenheit weather (65 miles range per night), since here in the cold Northeast, I occassionally find myself in the same situation as NY Times’ Broder where I absolutely cannot plug in. My frustration is there has been zero acknowledgement of this… Read more »

It seems we’ve learned 3 things with the 3 Tesla fires:

1) The chemistry Tesla uses is more prone to fire after violent collisions with the battery pack.
2) Tesla went to great lengths to design the battery pack to keep the fire away from the passenger compartment (a design which obviously works as planned).
3) Tesla is willing to replace any Model S destroyed in this way by fire.

Despite the imperfect state of EV batteries, Tesla has been able to offer high range, high performance, and high levels of safety to the occupants of their vehicles.

We should appreciate the talents of Elon Musk. Here is a guy who invented a car that will make this world a better place to live in. Everyone will benefit. Let us support him & wish he succeeds. Climate change is wreaking havoc on the environment. Shall we wait for the tipping point of global warming before we act?