Video of electric car on fire near Kent sends Tesla stock tumbling

Oct 2, 2013, 2:22 PM | Updated: Oct 3, 2013, 2:34 pm

A video of a Tesla electric car on fire on a highway offramp in Kent, Wash. sent the company’s stock tumbling.

Photos and video appeared online, showing a Tesla Model S burning at the bottom of an exit ramp from Highway 167.

On Wednesday, shares of Tesla Motors fell more than six percent, the biggest one-day decline since July 16, and another five percent on Thursday. Tesla shares have risen more than 400 percent since the start of the year.

Company spokeswoman Liz Jarvis-Shean said the fire Tuesday was caused by a large metallic object hitting one of the battery pack’s modules in the pricey Model S. The fire was contained to a small section at the front of the vehicle, she said, and no one was injured.

Statement from Tesla:

“Yesterday, a Model S collided with a large metallic object in the middle of the road, causing significant damage to the vehicle. The car’s alert system signaled a problem and instructed the driver to pull over safely, which he did. No one was injured, and the sole occupant had sufficient time to exit the vehicle safely and call the authorities. Subsequently, a fire caused by the substantial damage sustained during the collision was contained to the front of the vehicle thanks to the design and construction of the vehicle and battery pack. All indications are that the fire never entered the interior cabin of the car. It was extinguished on-site by the fire department.”

The liquid-cooled 85 kilowatt-hour battery in the Tesla Model S is mounted below the passenger compartment floor and uses lithium-ion chemistry similar to the batteries in laptop computers and mobile phones.

In an incident report released under Washington state’s public records law, firefighters wrote that they appeared to have Tuesday’s fire under control, but the flames reignited. Crews found that water seemed to intensify the fire, so they began using a dry chemical extinguisher.

After dismantling the front end of the vehicle and puncturing holes in the battery pack, responders used a circular saw to cut an access hole in the front section to apply water to the battery, according to documents. Only then was the fire extinguished.

“This was not a spontaneous event,” Jarvis-Shean said. “Every indication we have at this point is that the fire was a result of the collision and the damage sustained through that.”

The Associated Press’ Mike Baker contributed to this report.

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Video of electric car on fire near Kent sends Tesla stock tumbling