Today in “why do Teslas keep randomly catching fire” news.
When Tesla began selling its Model S back in 2012, the cars were equipped with a “poorly designed battery” that was susceptible to leaking, according to a new Business Insider report. The battery leaks may have been the cause of short circuits and ensuing fires.
What is more damning, and potentially exposing the company to criminal prosecution, is that Musk sold the cars despite knowing about the potentially deadly flaw. According to the report, the leaks became an “urgent concern” in spring 2012 due to two problems with the cooling system:
- First, the aluminum Tesla chose to use for the end fitting of the cooling coil was susceptible to cracks and pinholes, according to tests done by the third-party firm IMR Test Lab in the summer of 2012. Business Insider reviewed these test results.
- And second, the design of the end fitting piece in the cooling system was imperfect, such that even after the part was brazed together, there were gaps between the cooling coil and its end fitting piece that connected it to the car, according to emails viewed by Business Insider. Sometimes, employees would have to force pieces together with a hammer to close gaps, according to internal Tesla documents viewed by Business Insider and a former Tesla employee.
BI says that e-mails it has viewed suggested the company had trouble fixing the problem and that battery leaks showed up on the production line as late as the end of 2012.
It also claims that cooling coils used by Tesla were sent to a test lab in upstate New York back in July of 2012 and that the results of the testing concluded that “the cooling coils did not meet chemical requirements for a regulation strength aluminum alloy.” The report alleges that even though Tesla knew about the design flaw, Model S vehicles kept rolling off the line.
“If we don’t deliver these cars we’re f—ed,” CEO Elon Musk had told his team, according to the report, around the same time. The company delivered more than 250 Model S sedans in Q3 2012.
No doubt, the tone was set at the top. There was even a running joke at Tesla that the first 10,000 Model S VINs would all be different, due to all of the design flaws. An ex-employee told BI: “I think it’s common in every auto company that vehicles are released with design flaws. It’s called running design changes.”
The NHTSA is currently investigating Model S and Model X vehicles made between 2012 and 2019 for battery issues, as we reported back in October 2019. Consumer attorney Edward Chen claimed in a petition to the NHTSA last year that “Tesla is using over-the-air software updates to mask and cover-up a potentially widespread and dangerous issue with the batteries in their vehicles.”
Chen also argued that Tesla owners “saw the range of their Teslas on a charge fall by 25 miles (40 kilometers) or more after Tesla released two battery software updates beginning in May.”
The notice states: “The petitioner alleges that the software updates were in response to a potential defect that could result in non-crash fires in the affected battery packs and that Tesla should have notified NHTSA of the existence of this potential defect and conducted a safety recall. The petitioner also alleges that this software update reduces the driving range of the affected vehicles.”
Chen’s allegations were echoed by the BI piece released on Wednesday.
Jason Schug, a Vice President at Ricardo Strategic Consulting said to BI: “When we disassembled the Tesla Model X, a technician accidentally spilled coolant in the battery pack and it sat there for a long time. There was no immediate danger, but when we removed the battery modules quite a while later we found a lot of corrosion on the battery cells and it was bad enough that some of the cells were leaking electrolyte. If this were to happen in the field and go unnoticed, it could result in bricking the battery.”
He continued: “There was an incident with another manufacturer that a vehicle that had been in a crash test spontaneously combusted weeks later. Coolant had spilled in the battery during the crash and, when it evaporated, it left a residue which conducted electricity into a short circuit, which overheated the battery and triggered a fire.”
On Wednesday morning we also reported that the NHTSA was opening a preliminary evaluation into Tesla’s touchscreens in its Model S. Earlier today, we also reported about a Tesla in Germany that crossed the center lines of a roadway and slammed, head-on, into oncoming traffic, killing 3 people. That was the latest in a long line of suspicious looking Tesla accidents and fires, some of which involving autopilot and others resulting in deaths.
“Another day, another article where we reach the inevitable conclusion of being absolutely dumbfounded that the NHTSA and the NTSB still allow Tesla vehicles on the road,” we wrote just hours ago, while posting photos of yet another accident scene.
We have urged the NHTSA and NTSB to take strict action to limit the potential danger of Teslas on the street. In addition to touchscreen issues, we have also written about Model Y quality issues (such as the car’s rear bumper or backseat falling off and seatbelts being defective) and have posted a litany of stories involving sudden unintended acceleration events and spontaneous vehicle combustion.
Now we may finally have a clue as to why so many Tesla fires have occurred in recent years.
You can read Business Insider’s full expose here.