New Tesla Fire Manifests in Belgium

A Tesla Model S suffered a total meltdown after being connected to one of the company’s proprietary Supercharger stations in Antwerp, Belgium. While details are scant, local reports state the driver simply went to charge his automobile and returned to a burning wreck a short time later.

Considering the fire department had to totally submerge the ruined vehicle in a pool of water to ensure the car didn’t reignite, the odds of uncovering exactly what went wrong appear slim. But it wasn’t all that long ago that Tesla was pushing over-the-air updates to  mitigate a rash of fires that cropped up in the United States and Asia over the past few months. Surely, the manufacturer has some idea of what might have gone wrong. 

“As we continue our investigation of the root cause … we are revising charge and thermal management settings on Model S and Model X vehicles via an over-the-air software update that will begin rolling out today, to help further protect the battery and improve battery longevity,” the company said last month.

Electrek, which translated the latest story from Het Laatste Nieuws, noted that the sudden increase in Tesla-associated fires represents a relatively small portion of the brand’s overall volume — adding that there have been many more fires related to gas-powered models over the last few months. Regardless of the ratio, lithium-ion battery vehicles present new challenges to fire departments as they require different tactics and ludicrous amounts of water. EV manufacturers also haven’t been terribly forthcoming about what causes battery fires, often because they don’t know the cause, either.

As a result, some companies are considering shifting toward nickel-metal hydride. However, while the newer materials are less susceptible to thermal runaway, they’re still being finagled for automotive applications and reactions are still possible and excessive heat can always ignite adjacent materials. Regardless of the components, overcharging a battery or overwhelming it with too high of a rate can still make it pop.

It’s unclear whether the Model S in Antwerp will help Tesla get closer to uncovering what’s causing the battery fires. The car was opened up for an investigation following a day-long bath on June 1st. The charging station, which melted during the blaze, will also be examined.

By our estimation, plus an investigation conducted by the NHTSA (with help from General Motors), lithium-ion battery systems seem to be about as safe to use as gas-powered cars in terms of overall fire risk. But a rash of well-publicized fires do nothing for the brand’s PR. As electric vehicles are still something of a novelty, every fire involving this type of vehicle is sure to garner media coverage. Not all will include contextual caveats to paint a broader picture. While not a death sentence in itself, Tesla’s run of bad press has done a number on its share price in 2019. For the company’s sake, one of the items on Tesla’s to-do list must be getting to the bottom of these fires.

[Images: HLN]

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