Electric Cars

Tesla pins Shanghai fire on single battery module

It issued an over-the-air update to further protect the battery, but details are scant.

It's unclear if Tesla's OTA update following the investigation was pushed to global Model S and Model X vehicles, or if it was limited to Chinese cars alone.

Manuel Carrillo III/Roadshow

In April, video surfaced of a Tesla Model S catching fire while parked in Shanghai, China. At the time, Tesla told Reuters it sent a team to investigate the conflagration and determine a cause. Now, a couple months later, Tesla put out a statement -- and an update -- to close the case of the mysterious blaze.

Tesla on Friday posted a statement to its Chinese-language Weibo social media page. According to a translation, Tesla sent an investigative team comprising both Chinese and American technical experts to determine a cause and work with local government departments. The investigation determined that the fire was caused by a single battery module failure at the front of the vehicle.

The statement points out that the battery system worked as intended, attempting to contain the fire to its initial location while expelling heat to protect the remainder of the battery pack. Tesla said anyone who had been in the vehicle when the fire started would have had time to leave the vehicle.

Tesla said that it also pushed an over-the-air update to Model S and Model X vehicles in order to "protect the vehicle battery and improve battery life," through updates to the charging and thermal management systems. It's unclear exactly what has changed, and if this OTA update is limited to Chinese-market vehicles. Tesla did not immediately return a request for clarification on these fronts.

All vehicles, electric or otherwise, are more than capable of catching fire. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has, in no veiled terms, been quite adamant that his vehicles are significantly safer from fire than your average gas-powered vehicle. It's important to note, though, that there are major chemical differences between the two, which is why it wasn't necessarily the scariest thing when the NTSB reported a Tesla battery catching fire twice after it was involved in a crash. Tesla explicitly recommends monitoring a post-crash battery with a thermal imaging camera to ensure that untouched stocks of lithium aren't at risk of reigniting a subdued battery fire.

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