One of the first 250 Tesla Model S Plaid performance sedans “spontaneously combusted,” according to the attorney for the owner who claims to have been briefly trapped in the vehicle before being able to exit while the car was still moving.
The incident adds to a growing list of safety concerns involving the California EV marker, NHTSA recently confirming that it has launched 30 separate investigations involving Tesla products. The majority of those involve the semi-autonomous Autopilot technology linked to a number of crashes and some fatalities.
The latest incident occurred on June 29, when an unnamed owner of a Tesla Model S Plaid was driving through Haverford, Pennsylvania. The vehicle “spontaneously combusted,” according to one of the owner’s attorneys. The driver was briefly trapped inside and was able to finally exit even before it came to a complete stop.
“A harrowing and frightening situation”
“This is a harrowing and frightening situation and an obvious major problem,” said Mark Geragos, said another one of the owner’s attorneys, according to the Verge. “Our preliminary investigation is ongoing, but we call on Tesla to sideline these cars until a full investigation can occur.”
Tesla has not responded to either the owner’s attorneys or to a request for comment from TheDetroitBureau.com.
The Model S Plaid is the latest variant of Tesla’s original sedan model. Starting at $129,990, CEO Elon Musk claims it is the fastest production vehicle ever, under carefully controlled circumstances capable of launching from 0 to 60 in 1.9 seconds. Since its introduction during the spring about 250 of the Plaid sedans have been shipped to customers.
Tesla has dealt with fire problems before
Tesla products have been involved in a number of fires since the debut of the original Model S in June 2012. CEO Musk has repeatedly downplayed the problem, insisting that EVs, Tesla’s in particular, experience fewer fires than gasoline-powered vehicles. The company has taken a number of steps to reduce the risk, however.
After some early fires, Tesla added titanium cladding to the battery pack to reduce the chance that road debris might penetrate the battery pack. Lithium-ion batteries can ignite when shorted out. It also used an over-the-air update to raise the ride height of the Model S to reduce road debris risks.
Nonetheless, there have continued to be fires. One in April resulted in the death of two passengers. That crash has drawn intense scrutiny because police responding to the incident reported no one was behind the wheel at the time. There has been speculation the driver was testing out the “full self-driving” capabilities of Tesla’s Autopilot system when the crash occurred.
Thirty federal investigations
Last month, Reuters analyzed data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that showed the agency had 30 open investigations into Tesla vehicles.
“It seems like every other week we’re hearing about a new vehicle that crashed when it was on Autopilot,” U.S. Senate Commerce Committee chair Maria Cantwell said last month.
There is no clear explanation for last week’s crash, according to authorities. NHTSA has not yet indicated whether it might launch yet another probe into the incident.
The Model S Plaid incident last week was dealt with by firefighters from two local departments. According to published reports, both had been trained in dealing with lithium-ion battery fires – which are notoriously difficult to put out. They “laid a 5 inch supply line into the scene so that we could keep a continual water stream on the fire to extinguish the fire and cool the batteries down to ensure complete extinguishment,” according to a statement from one of the two to respond, the Gladwyne (PA) Fire Department. There were no inuries reported but the Tesla performance sedan was completely destroyed.