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Probe Into Tesla Fires Ordered by NHTSA

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said today it has opened a probe into a series of fires in Tesla Motors Inc.
electric cars following crashes.

The agency said it would investigate why two of the expensive Tesla Model S sporty hatchbacks have caught fire this year following accidents in which the battery casing, which serves as the undercarriage of the car, cracked
open.

A third fire, in Mexico, won’t be part of the investigation because it is outside the agency’s jurisdiction, the Los Angeles Times reported on its
website. NHTSA noted that in the two U.S. fires — one in Seattle and the other in Nashville – the battery monitoring system in the cars warned the drivers, allowing them to pull over and safely exit the vehicles before the battery emitted smoke and fire.

The fires have become an issue for Tesla, contributing to a 37 percent drop in the value of its stock since reaching a high of $193.37 on Sept. 30; shares were down an additional 2 percent in overnight trading today, according to The Times.

Tesla’s chief executive, Los Angeles resident Elon Musk, said in remarks quoted by The Times that the automaker, which has corporate headquarters in Palo Alto and several dealerships in the Southland, requested the investigation to refute fears that electric cars are more prone to fires than other vehicles.

But the NHTSA disputed that, saying its decision arose from an independent process, according to The Times. “In regards to Tesla, the agency notified the automaker of its plans to open a formal investigation and requested their cooperation,” NHTSA  said.
Tesla is already taking action, changing its warranty to cover fire damage, even if due to driver error.
“Either our belief in the safety of our car is correct and this is a minor cost,” Musk said, “or we are wrong, in which case the right thing is for
Tesla to bear the cost, rather than the car buyer.”

Musk also defended the automaker’s vehicles, writing they have a lower fire risk than gasoline vehicles. “Since the Model S went into production mid-last year, there have been over 400 deaths and 1,200 serious injuries in the United States alone due to gasoline car fires, compared to zero deaths and zero injuries due to Tesla fires anywhere in the world,” Musk wrote, according to The Times.

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