Tesla Motors makes the coolest cars on the road. Their beautiful design is complemented by lots of technical wizardry, including a giant 17-inch (!) touch screen in the dashboard. Powered solely by a 60 or 85 kWh battery, models cost from $50,000 to more than $170,000, depending on how they are equipped. Consumer Reports ranked the Tesla Model S as the best car it ever reviewed, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the Tesla S was the safest car it ever tested. Tesla’s stock price went from $27 to $193 a share over the past year. It’s been a great success story, until this week when a YouTube video almost became a public relations disaster.
A video shot by a passerby shows a Tesla engulfed in flames. The driver said he struck some large debris which caused the car’s battery to catch fire. The image of the supercar burning uncontrollably led to a big drop in the company’s stock price this week and forced Tesla CEO Elon Musk to publicly defend his all-electric car. On the company’s blog Musk wrote, “Had a conventional gasoline car encountered the same object on the highway, the result could have been far worse. In contrast, the combustion energy of our battery pack is only about 10% of the energy contained in a gasoline tank…the effective combustion potential is only about 1% that of the fuel in a comparable gasoline sedan.”
According to the National Fire Protection Association, there are 150,000 car fires every year. Musk used the statistic in his blog: “That equates to one vehicle fire for every 20 million miles driven, compared to one fire in over 100 million miles for Tesla. This means you are five times more likely to experience a fire in a conventional gasoline car than a Tesla!”
Musk was smart to use this data. Car fires happen every day. Because this viral video had the potential to damage Tesla’s safety record, the company’s public response has been appropriate and effective. Stock prices are recovering, and I suspect any tarnish to the car’s reputation will go away–as long as there’s not another Tesla fire anytime soon. Your thoughts?