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Does The Model S Need Better Fire Protection?

Tesla’s Model S sedan has wowed reviewers, aced crash tests, invoked great admiration from fans, but within five weeks two remarkably similar encounters with road debris in Washington and Tennessee resulted in serious fires.

Whether the Oct. 2 and Nov. 6 incidents will prompt a recall is still being determined, but according to the executive director of an influential non-profit automotive safety group in Washington, D.C., it should if investigators prove both fires were caused by battery compartment punctures.

And it does appear this could be the case. In both incidents, an 85-kwh Model S was traveling on a highway, and both drivers reported striking sturdy metal objects.
Just The Facts

The Model S uses high capacity 18650 lithium-ion cells supplied by an internal arm of Panasonic called the Automotive & Industrial Systems Company.

Tesla did not respond to our inquiry for this story, but in the batteries’ raw state, their chemistries are believed to be anywhere from mildly to much more flammable than batteries in the Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf, for example.

According to Altairnano engineer and Senior Director of IP & Technology, Jay Akhave, Tesla has the highest energy in its packs which he estimated at 146 watt-hours per kilogram.


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