Tesla CEO fights fire with statistics

Elon Musk discusses the incident in which a battery pack caught burst into flames on a Model S sedan.

By Benzinga Oct 7, 2013 7:19PM

Credit: From left: © Jack Plunkett/AP

Caption: From left: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk gives the opening keynote at the SXSW Interactive Festival By Jim Probasco

According to Tesla Motors (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk (pictured), a fire in one of his company's battery-powered vehicles is nothing compared to a fire in a gasoline-powered car.

In a blog post Friday, Musk wrote, "The combustion energy of our battery pack is only about 10 percent of the energy contained in a gasoline tank and is divided into 16 modules with firewalls in between. As a consequence, the effective combustion potential is only about 1 percent that of the fuel in a comparable gasoline sedan."

In the widely reported incident, the Tesla battery compartment, which is protected by quarter-inch armor plating, was struck by a large metal object while the car traveled at highway speeds. The force of the impact was "on the order of 25 tons," according to Musk.

Musk pointed out that the car’s on-board alert system advised the driver to pull off the road and get out of the car. In addition, Musk noted that firewalls contained the fire and vents directed the flames down and away from the vehicle.

"Had a conventional gasoline car encountered the same object on the highway, the result could have been far worse," Musk said.

Using statistics from the National Fire Protection Association, which suggest one vehicle 

fire for every 20 million miles driven in a conventional car versus one in more than 100 million miles in a Tesla, Musk concluded that drivers are five times more likely to experience a fire in a conventional gasoline car than a Tesla.

Musk blamed firefighters for puncturing one of the firewalls in the battery compartment, allowing flames to enter into the front trunk of the Tesla. According to a Fox News report, firefighters became frustrated when their initial attempts to extinguish the fire resulted in the flames reigniting. At that point, they dismantled the front of the car and punctured holes in the battery pack, including the firewall.

Since electric cars make up less than 1 percent of automobiles sold in the U.S., lack of familiarity with the nature of fires in battery-powered vehicles might continue to be an issue until those numbers grow.

Contrary to earlier reports that water intensified the fire, Musk said the use of water was correct, especially in combination with dry chemicals, as finally happened.

To emphasize his belief that Tesla is not a major fire risk, Musk closed his blog post by writing, "For consumers concerned about fire risk, there should be absolutely zero doubt that it is safer to power a car with a battery than a large tank of highly flammable liquid."

After sliding more than 10 percent following news of the fire, Tesla shares regained more than 4 percent Friday and another 1% Monday to close at $183.07.

More from Benzinga

At the time of this writing, Jim Probasco had no position in any mentioned securities.

Oct 8, 2013 4:08PM
red billy.....that is as stupid as saying "an electric vehicle won't blow up in a rear end collision". Two different beasts. But then you must be one of those folks who are afraid of progress and moving away from oil dependency.
Oct 7, 2013 8:37PM

I really love all this conjecture from someone, that many are afraid to question...

Or don't know what questions to ask.

Oct 8, 2013 10:44AM
I have never heard of a gasoline car running over an object and bursting into flames. Perhaps big shot can give us some video. I had a cordless drill catch on fire once. I think the doubt of battery powered cars bursting into flames is more than zero. They catch on fire just by being flooded with water. A bunch of electric cars caught on fire a year ago on the east coach when the super storm flooded some car lots. None of the gas cars caught on fire. A pinto won't even catch on fire from a flood! This won't be the last Tesla going up in a spectacular ball of flames.
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