Elon Musk offers Model S owners a fireproof guarantee

Facing the flames.
Facing the flames.
Image: Justin Sullivan/Getty
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Elon Musk has taken to his blog to put the brakes on Tesla Motors’s sliding stock.

The chief executive of the electric carmaker is on the offensive, after the US government launched an investigation into potential fire hazards of the automaker’s Model S luxury electric sedan. (Several of the cars recently caught fire after accidents. Two of the accidents involved drivers who ran over metallic objects that pierced the car’s lithium-ion battery pack. A third Model S caught fire in October when its driver crashed through a concrete wall and hit a tree.)

After weeks of smacking down critics on social media, Musk announced a series of measures on his blog to reassure Model S owners and potential buyers.

Musk emphasized that Tesla had requested that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) initiate the investigation. And he stressed that the Silicon Valley carmaker has rolled out a software update to raise the car’s suspension at highway speeds. “To be clear, this is about reducing the chances of underbody impact damage, not improving safety,” he wrote. “The theoretical probability of a fire injury is already vanishingly small and the actual number to date is zero.”

Tesla has also changed the Model S’s warranty to cover fire damage even if the driver is responsible for an incident, Musk said. “Unless a Model S owner actively tries to destroy the car, they are covered,” he wrote.

After Musk flatly stated last week that there would be no recall of the Model S —in reality that decision will be up to the NHTSA—he took a more contrite tone about the investigation. “While we think it is highly unlikely, if something is discovered that would result in a material improvement in occupant fire safety, we will immediately apply that change to new cars and offer it as a free retrofit to all existing cars,” he said, noting there are about 19,000 Model S vehicles on the road.

The Model S earlier this year scored the NHTSA’s highest-ever safety rating, as well as a top ranking from Consumer Reports. “It is literally impossible for another car to have a better safety track record, as it would have to possess mystical powers of healing,” Musk wrote in the blog post.

Those accolades haven’t stopped Tesla’s stock price from falling 37% since the first of the highly publicized fires on Oct. 1—which shaved more than $5 billion off the company’s market cap. An irritated Musk has repeatedly pointed out that fires involving gasoline-powered vehicles result in about 500 deaths a year, a statistic that receives far less attention.

Ultimately, Musk appealed to consumers’ higher values. “There is a larger issue at stake: If a false perception about the safety of electric cars is allowed to linger, it will delay the advent of sustainable transport and increase the risk of global climate change, with potentially disastrous consequences worldwide,” he wrote. “That cannot be allowed to happen.”