A second battery fire following “undercarriage strikes” in a Tesla Model S electric car has prompted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to launch a formal investigation. In both cases, the cars had run over debris in the roadway, which pierced the battery compartment that then caught on fire.
Passengers in the cars that caught fire were able to escape and none sustained injuries, NHTSA said. “In each incident, the vehicle’s battery monitoring system provided escalating visible and audible warnings, allowing the driver to execute a controlled stop and exit the vehicle before the battery emitted smoke and fire,” the administration wrote.
One battery fire was reported in Washington state and the second in Tennessee. A third Tesla Model S fire was reported in Mexico when the vehicle crashed. The passengers in that vehicle escaped unharmed as well.
Following the first battery fire, which occurred near Seattle, the NHTSA said it did not plan to investigate the matter. However, the administration apparently changed its mind when other reports surfaced.
Just hours before the NHTSA announced its investigation, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk gave word that he was taking steps to improve the safety of the vehicles. Those measures include higher ground clearance to make the cars less likely to strike road debris, amending the cars’ warranty to cover damage due to fire, and requesting regulators conduct a full investigation as soon as possible into the fires. (Musk gave no hint that the administration was about to announce one.)
NHTSA investigations can sometimes lead to recalls, however Musk says he believes a recall is not necessary.