Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) CEO Elon Musk is working hard to stem the tide of mainstream news headlines about the three recent Model S fires. He spoke about them yesterday at the DealBook conference and again at Business Insider‘s Ignition 2013 conference.
Why should Tesla’s car fires be news?
His comments at both events were pretty similar. He notes that there has never been a single death or serious injury in a Model S anywhere in the world. He says in comparison, gasoline-powered cars have “hundreds of thousands” of them. According to Musk, there are around 200,000 car fires in gasoline cars every year in the U.S. alone. And in spite of that, those fires aren’t front page news like the fires in Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA)’s Model S have been.
He also says there are 250 to 300 deaths per year in gasoline cars and 1,000 to 1,500 serious fire injuries per year in gasoline-powered cars, once again just in the U.S. However, the Model S hasn’t had any, and there are now about 25,000 Tesla cars on the road around the world.
Tesla’s cars are five times less likely to have a fire than gas cars
He also reports that there is about one fire for every 1,300 gasoline cars, compared to Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA)’s record so far of one fire for every 8,000 cars. That means Tesla’s vehicle is about five times less likely to have a fire than a gasoline car. He says this doesn’t mean that the risk is zero because we head into the law of large numbers or statistics. Musk also says for consumers who are worried about fires, the Model S is actually the safest car.
He again addressed questions about a Model S recall and said they would issue a recall if they felt it was necessary. He noted that all three fires were the result of very high speed impacts.
Breaking down the second Tesla fire
Specifically, he focused on the second fire in which the driver “was going very fast,” (to which he and others chuckled because he didn’t want to say the exact speed). Musk said the accident caused “four times more impact energy than the most strenuous regulatory test anywhere in the world.” He went on to say that “you’re not supposed to survive an impact of this magnitude,” and yet, the Model S driver in that wreck did.
The driver hit a roundabout, sheered off 15 feet of curb wall, and then bounced into a seven-foot high concrete wall. Then he smashed through that and the wheels had been ripped off the car, and it was skidding across the road right on top of the battery pack. Finally the car smashed into a tree and stopped. The driver and passengers all walked away from the wreck, and “sometime later there was a fire in the car.”
Tesla isn’t a “normal” car
Of course there was more laughter here, because as you can see, this really is ridiculous. A “normal” car would have been shredded apart long before it hit the tree, so a fire would have been the least of the occupants’ worries. They probably would have been dead. Musk laughed again and said the driver picked the Tesla team up from the airport the following day.
At the DealBook conference, Musk also drew a comparison with the Titanic, saying that the headlines from this accident were like if the headlines about the Titanic had been about something insignificant after the ship had careened through two icebergs, stopped at the third one, and then all the passengers disembarked safely.