Musk denied allegations the Tesla Model S was facing similar problems as the Fisker Karma hybrid car. “We’re about five times less likely to have a fire than an average gasoline car,” Musk told a conference in New York.
He also said the media’s reaction to Model S fires has been “extremely inaccurate and unreasonable”.
“The headlines are extremely misleading. If fire risk is your concern, you would have a great deal of difficulty being in any better car than the Model S.”
Last week, a third Model S caught on fire in Tennessee, raising concerns about the safety of the electric vehicle in the aftermath of an accident. The car’s owner said he thought the fire was started by a piece of debris in the middle of the road tearing the car’s underside, and piercing its lithium-ion battery pack. However, the driver also said the flames never penetrated the car’s cabin and he was able to unlock the car once fire fighters arrived on the scene.
Last month a fire started in a different Model S in Seattle, with the incident being caught on camera. A separate incident occurred in Mexico, when a Model S broke out in flames following a collision with another car.
Following the three fires, and a lower-than-expected third-quarter result, Tesla stocks have fallen by 22 per cent. After rumours of a possible recall, Tesla shares closed 5 per cent down on Tuesday, at US$137.80. Musk is Tesla’s biggest shareholder.
In a further blow to Tesla’s image, George Clooney recently claimed his Tesla Roadster ownership experience was less than satisfactory.
“I was one of the first cats with a Tesla. I think I was, like, number five on the list,” Clooney told Esquire magazine. “But I’m telling you, I’ve been on the side of the road a while in that thing, and I said to them, ‘Look, guys, why am I always stuck on the side of the f***ing road? Make it work, one way or another.’”
Clooney sold his Roadster for a reported US$99,000 last year, donating the proceeds to charity. The Lotus Elise-based Roadster has since been discontinued, with Tesla focussing on developing its own cars.
Ultimately, a Model S recall decision could be made even against Tesla’s will. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it has contacted Tesla following the Tennessee incident, to decide if a recall is necessary; if Tesla refuses, it could be taken to court by the government.