Tesla has come under fire in the wake of an explosive crash in Indianapolis involving a Model S battery-electric vehicle that took the life of a young woman and her boss.
The automaker had previously taken steps to prevent the lithium-ion batteries used in its vehicles from inadvertently catching fire, but the crash raises questions not only about whether Tesla has gone far enough, but whether Tesla’s battery technology is inherently safe. Lithium-ion chemistry came under close scrutiny last year as a result of fires and meltdowns involving Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 smartphone.
“Had she been in another vehicle she would have been alive for me to yell at her for driving after drinking,” Jon Speckman, the father of victim Casey Speckman, said during an interview with the Indianapolis Star.
Explosion Upon Impact
The 27-year-old was driving her boss’s Model S battery-electric vehicle about 1 a.m. on November 3, when they appear to have swerved to avoid a car driving in the wrong direction, crashing into a tree and then a parking garage in Indianapolis. The car almost immediately exploded. Speckman, who was found to have a blood-alcohol level of 0.21 percent — nearly triple Indiana’s 0.08 percent limit — was killed by the crash, but 44 year-old Kevin McCarthy died as a result of the subsequent explosion and fire.
Emergency responders reported that when they arrive at the scene, individual batteries from the Tesla’s pack were popping out of the vehicle and exploding.
Analyst Dave Sullivan, himself an electric vehicle owner, said he wasn’t entirely surprised by what happened. “Like a gasoline vehicle, an EV’s energy source can be explosive when it gets into a serious enough accident,” said Sullivan, an analyst with AutoPacific. “I don’t know if there’s an answer to the explosive nature of lithium-ion when those batteries are disturbed.”
This is not the first time Tesla has come under scrutiny as a result of fires involving its vehicles. The maker’s Model S was involved in several other well-publicized incidents in 2013, most of the fires triggered by road debris unexpectedly puncturing the battery pack. Tesla quickly responded by adding a new titanium shell that reduced the likelihood of such punctures.
Separately, CEO Elon Musk downplayed the risk, noting that there are “thousands” of gasoline-powered vehicles that are involved in fires every year. Referring to one of the Tesla incidents on a Washington State highway, he said in a blog post, “Had a conventional gasoline car encountered the same object on the highway, the result could have been far worse.”
Tesla told NBC News, “We have been deeply saddened by this accident and have been working closely with authorities to facilitate their report. While it can be difficult to determine the precise speed of a vehicle in such a crash, the observed damage and debris field indicate a very high speed collision.”
Source: NBC News