It was bound to happen sooner or later – EVs have many advantages over legacy vehicles, but being fireproof isn’t one of them. However, there was a sort of spooky symbolism (an EV-hater might call it poetic justice) in the fact that it was a Model S, the most high-profile electric model, and a car that recently touted its status as one of the safest ever built, that became the first known EV to catch fire on the road (most of the handful of earlier EV fires either happened in crash testing, or were traced to something other than the battery).
You and I know that the actual fire isn’t that big a deal – gas burners catch fire too, about 150,000 of them per year in the US, according to the National Fire Protection Association. But that fact won’t stop the media from fanning the flames, and the real question is, will this do any long-term damage to the company’s reputation?
Elon Musk lost no time in offering a detailed explanation of the incident in a blog post. “A curved section that fell off a semi-trailer was recovered from the roadway near where the accident occurred and, according to the road crew that was on the scene, appears to be the culprit. The geometry of the object caused a powerful lever action as it went under the car, punching upward and impaling the Model S with a peak force on the order of 25 tons.”
In fact, the fire served to highlight some of the safety features of the Model S: “The fire in the battery was contained to a small section near the front by the internal firewalls built into the pack structure. At no point did fire enter the passenger compartment. Had a conventional gasoline car encountered the same object on the highway, the result could have been far worse.”
The blog post also included a copy of an email from the driver, who is “still a big fan of your car and look[s] forward to getting back into one.”
The stock market has also been fairly philosophical about the incident, at least so far. Having set a new all-time high of $194.50 on Monday, TSLA dropped about 7% when video of the fire hit the web on Wednesday (hardly a huge move for a high-flying startup), but posted a gain of over 4% on Friday, to close the week at $180.98.