Earlier this week, the Apple Daily newspaper in Hong Kong reported that a Tesla Model S caught fire in a parking structure. The Model S had been parked in a garage near a Hong Kong shopping mall when the fire started. As a result of this latest static spontaneous combustion—three in the six weeks—Tesla has pushed an over-the-air update to the Model S and Model X as a precautionary measure.
According to TechCrunch, which obtained a statement from Tesla, the OTA update is meant to “protect the battery and improve battery longevity.” The already updated software alters the battery charge and thermal management settings to ensure occupant’s safety. At this time, however, Tesla has stated that it has yet to identify the issue that caused this latest Model S fire, so the update may not prevent whatever triggered these three fires.
As mentioned, the fire in Hong Kong comes only a few weeks after one Model S spontaneously combusted in San Francisco and another in Shanghai. Both incidents occurred while the electric vehicles were parked; the one in San Francisco occurred at a private residence, while the fire in Shanghai occurred in a parking garage. While the residential Model S fire didn’t damage the structure, the fire and subsequent explosion in Shanghai incident engulfed a handful of other nearby cars. Neither Model S was charging at the time of these incidents.
In the statement to TechCrunch, Tesla affirmed that “The safety of our customers is our top priority, and if we do identify an issue, we will do whatever is necessary to address it. We currently have well over half a million vehicles on the road, which is more than double the number that we had at the beginning of last year, and Tesla’s team of battery experts uses that data to thoroughly investigate incidents that occur and understand the root cause. Although fire incidents involving Tesla vehicles are already extremely rare and our cars are 10 times less likely to experience a fire than a gas car, we believe the right number of incidents to aspire to is zero.”
Tesla’s manufacturing processes have been under extreme scrutiny as the company’s Autopilot advanced driver assistance systems have been misused, misrepresented, and seen the injury and death of a number of drivers. Furthermore, Tesla’s issuance that it didn’t need to invest in automotive-grade equipment, with the highest profile issue being its infotainment screen. The company has entered “replacement hell” as it has seen driver’s witnessing their infotainment screens melt before their eyes. According to The Drive’s reporting, drivers watched as “bubbles would form on the sides of the displays and eventually leak a gooey adhesive material into the car's interior.”
Though fires among Tesla’s ever-expanding fleet are rare, and the update doesn’t affect the Model 3, the string of high-profile eruptive fires was enough of a concern that as mentioned, Tesla issued an OTA update. Tesla is still actively looking into this latest spontaneous fire and we’ll report on any updates as they’re announced.