Tesla says it will add a titanium underbody shield to its $90,000 Model S sports sedans, hoping to prevent battery fires like the two that destroyed two of the cars last year when they struck road debris.
That was good enough for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which promptly closed its three-month investigation of the fires.
Tesla says the shield will be built into all cars manufactured after March 5. Owners of cars built before that may have the shield added on request, the company said.
Writing on the Tesla.com site, ever-churlish CEO Elon Musk called the 2013 fires the result of "extremely unusual" collisions. NHTSA documents, however, note that hitting road debris is inevitable but say the shield and a software upgrade that raised the car's riding height should minimize the risk of future fires.
Musk still miffed
Musk, never satisfied, still thinks he was needlessly beaten up over the 2013 fires.
"These incidents, unfortunately, received more national headlines than the other [sic] 200,000 gasoline car fires that happened last year in North America alone," he wrote. "In both cases, the occupants walked away unharmed, thanks to the car’s safety features."
Musk notes that, so far, no Model S occupants have been killed in collisions and he claimed the latest change will bring the risk of serious injury or death "down to virtually zero."
Musk said the changes will help prevent fires even in accidents that occur at very high speeds, "like the other Model S impact fire, which occurred last year in Mexico."
"This happened after the vehicle impacted a roundabout at 110 mph, shearing off 15 feet of concrete curbwall and tearing off the left front wheel, then smashing through an eight foot tall buttressed concrete wall on the other side of the road and tearing off the right front wheel, before crashing into a tree," Musk said. "The driver stepped out and walked away with no permanent injuries and a fire, again limited to the front section of the vehicle, started several minutes later. The underbody shields will help prevent a fire even in such a scenario."
“In this case, Tesla's revision of vehicle ride height and addition of increased underbody protection should reduce both the frequency of underbody strikes and the resultant fire risk. A defect trend has not been identified. Accordingly, the investigation is closed,” the agency said in a statement on its website, adding: "The closing of the investigation does not constitute a finding by NHTSA that a safety-related defect does not exist, and the agency reserves the right to take further action if warranted by new circumstances."