Tesla Motors Identifies Cause of Model S Fire

The owner of a Tesla Model S in Norway got a nasty surprise on New Year’s Day when his car caught fire and burned to the ground while charging. There wasn’t much left of the car when the fire finally burned itself out, but that didn’t stop Tesla Motors from conducting an exhaustive examination of the vehicle. Yesterday, it announced it believes the fire was caused by a short circuit inside the car’s electrical distribution box.

Model S fire in Norway

In an e-mail message to Norwegian news site VB, Even Sandvold Roland, Tesla’s communication manager in Norway, said, “In January, it was an isolated incident where a Model S caught fire while it used a Supercharger. The cause was a short circuit in the distribution box in the car. Superchargers were turned off immediately when the short circuit was discovered. No one was injured in the fire. Our investigation confirmed that this was an isolated incident, but due to the damage to the car, we could not definitely identify the exact cause of the short circuit.” Please note that the statement was translated from Norwegian by our friends at Google, so if you think his words sound a bit odd, that is probably why.

Tesla reassured its customers by saying Tesla Supercharger stations have been used safely more than 2.5 million times. In addition, more than 35 million charging sessions have been completed safely and successfully using either home or destination chargers. It will, however, update the software package in the Model S to provide extra security during charging. It tells VG the update will include a diagnostic solution to prevent charging if a potential short circuit is detected.

Tesla cooperated with the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergency Planning (DSB) during the investigation. The DSB says it is convinced this was an isolated incident. DSB chief engineer Jostein Ween Dig told VG, “We are confident that this is a special event. A car fire is often spectacular, but there is no reason to believe that electric cars burn more often than other cars. Statistics actually indicate that incidence of fires is lower for electric cars,” he said.

Dig went on to say, “The owner had time to run back, unplug the charger connector and remove his possessions from the car. It took several minutes before the car was ablaze. Normally an electric vehicle fire is not as explosive as it can be in a petrol car. The flames you see in the picture and video were mostly from plastic in the interior that caught fire.” He emphasized that the battery did not explode.

The SuperCharger location is now back in operation and functioning normally. Kudos to Tesla for taking the time to fully investigate this incident and find new ways to reassure its customers and the community at large of the safety of electric vehicles.

Special thanks to Leif Hansen in Norway who forwarded the VB news story to me. We appreciate it, Leif! 

Photo credit: VB News, Norway via Teslarati

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.