Media feeding frenzy or real problem?Some stories have a life of their own. For some reason, they hit a sweet spot in the human psyche, and that makes them extra-interesting to people. A lot of the time, these stories are about a reversal of fortunes. Some company is getting a string of successes and positive attention, like Apple or Tesla, and after a while journalists are almost hunting for negative stories because the unexpected makes good headlines.
Well, there's one such story building up right now about Tesla. There's been a third severe accident with a Model S catching fire (nobody was hurt), the stock is down, and the media has grabbed on to those fires and the stock price as indicative that something is wrong with Tesla and its EVs, which is ridiculous when you look at the facts.
Car fires are not rareFirst of all, as pointed out in our coverage of the previous two fires, vehicle fires are not rare. If you pack a lot of energy into a small space, whether in a battery or a gasoline tank, there are chances that in a severe enough accident, you'll get a fire.
According to data from the National Fire Prevention Association, there were 187,500 highway vehicle fires just in 2011, and just on highways in the US. That means that if you are a car maker with a 20% market share, you can expect about 37,500 of your vehicles to catch on fire on the highway over each year.
If every car fire was reported in the media the way that Tesla fires are, there wouldn't be space for any other news...
So now that Tesla has thousands and thousands of vehicles on the road, with more being added all the time, it's a statistical certainty that some are going to get in pretty bad accidents and some of those might catch on fire. These accidents should be studied and if a real flaw is found, it should be corrected. But to use the simple fact that three cars caught fire as indicative of anything is just media BS, especially since the Model S did extremely well in crash tests.
And if you are worried about the driver of the third Tesla that caught fire, here's a letter that he wrote telling his story. He remains a Tesla fan:
I was driving home from work on the interstate in the right lane at approximately 70 miles per hour, following a truck. In the middle of the lane, there was a rusty three-pronged trailer hitch that was sticking up with the ball up in the air. The truck in front of me cleared the object. I did not have enough time to swerve to avoid the hitch, and it went below my car. I felt a firm "thud" as the hitch struck the bottom of the car, and it felt as though it even lifted the car up in the air. My assistant later found a gouge in the tarmac where the item scraped into the road. Somewhat shaken, I continued to drive.
About 30-45 seconds later, there was a warning on the dashboard display saying, "Car needs service. Car may not restart." I continued to drive, hoping to get home. About one minute later, the message on the dashboard display read, "Please pull over safely. Car is shutting down." I was able to fully control the car the entire time and safely pulled off the left shoulder on the side of the road. I got out of the car, and started to get all my belongings out. About 5-10 seconds after getting out of the car, smoke started to come from the front underbody of the car. I walked away from the vehicle to a distance of about 100 yards. More smoke started to come out of the bottom of the car, and about two minutes after I walked away, the front of the car caught on fire.
I am thankful to God that I was totally uninjured in any way from this impact. Had I not been in a Tesla, that object could have punched through the floor and caused me serious harm. From the time of impact of the object until the time the car caught fire was about five minutes. During this time, the car warned me that it was damaged and instructed me to pull over. I never felt as though I was in any imminent danger. While driving after I hit the object until I pulled over, the car performed perfectly, and it was a totally controlled situation. There was never a point at which I was anywhere even close to any flames.
The firemen arrived promptly and applied water to the flames. They were about to pry open the doors, so I pressed my key button and the handles presented and everything worked even though the front of the car was on fire. No flames ever reached the cabin, and nothing inside was damaged. I was even able to get my papers and pens out of the glove compartment.
This experience does not in any way make me think that the Tesla Model S is an unsafe car. I would buy another one in a heartbeat.
Juris Shibayama, MD
A few words on the stock priceEven Elon Musk recently said that the Tesla stock price was "more than they deserved", basically saying that he thought it was overvalued. Not something you'll usually hear a CEO say about his own company.
But the fact is that Tesla's operations have improved rapidly over the past couple of years, but the stock has gone up much faster than those fundamentals (over 400% in one year at one point). That disconnect between the two had to be corrected by the market at some point, and it might as well be now. It doesn't mean that all of a sudden the company is any less good at making EVs or whatever. What really matters is what the company is doing, not its stock price.
344% in one year isn't bad either...