NHTSA starts preliminary probe on Tesla Model S

Article by Anita Panait, on November 20, 2013

The United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has commenced a preliminary evaluation on the Tesla Model S following three fire incidents involving the plug-in electric sedan that occurred in just five weeks. In a Web site posting, the NHTSA said it would probe into the fire risks from the cars' undercarriages striking objects.

The preliminary probe, which could lead into a recall, involves 13,108 Model S vehicles.  Tesla chief executive Elon Musk said last week that "there's definitely not going to be a recall."

Hours before the filing, Musk said in a blog post that Tesla sought the evaluation to counter "false perceptions" about the safety of the Model S. He also said that the carmaker will amend its warranty to cover damage caused by fires and will update its air suspension to enable greater ground clearance at highway speeds.

Musk wrote that if the probe discovers something that would result in a material improvement in occupant fire safety, Tesla will immediately apply it on new cars, and will “offer it as a free retrofit to all existing cars." He, however, said that such situation is highly unlikely.

Two of the fire incidents were in the US and involved the Model S running over metal objects that punctured its lithium-ion battery packs. The third was reported in Mexico on Oct. 18. The drivers of the cars were uninjured in all the fires.  A recall of the Model S could occur if the NHTSA determined that Tesla should address a safety issue.

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