Tesla accused of knowlingly selling cars with batteries prone to fire
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In June of 1978, Ford agreed to recall 1.5 million Ford Pintos due to design defects that made them vulnerable to fires in the event on a rear-end collision. Over 40 years on, and similar claims are now being levelled at Tesla over one of its most popular vehicles — the Model S.
American publication Business Insider has come out with a scathing report on Tesla, where it claims that the firm has sold the Model S knowing that its battery cooling system was flawed in its design, making the battery susceptible to catching fire.
The story's author, Linette Lopez, alleges to have discussed the problem with three different EV expert sources — who claim that the design flaw can lead to a battery pack coolant leak. Once that coolant dries, it's a strong source of ignition according to the article.
"Tesla knew its Model S cars were equipped with a battery-cooling system that had a flawed design in June 2012, as those cars started being delivered to customers, according to three people familiar with the matter and internal documents viewed by Business Insider. But the company sold the cars anyway," says the report.
In the story Lopez claims to have had access to multiple emails and two reports from Tesla, produced internally after the brand located the issues. The two firms who reportedly analysed the cooling system both reportedly came to the same conclusion; that the aluminium used for a particular fitting was prone to cracks and perforation.
"This design flaw became a topic of urgent concern within [Tesla] in spring 2012, according to internal emails and documents [...]. As cars were rolling off the production line and being delivered to customers in 2012, emails showed that Tesla employees were still concerned about the parts found leaking on the production line," the report adds.
There are two central points to the story; Lopez, a nine-year veteran at Business Insider, levels the outright accusation that Tesla has sold Model S vehicles with these issues knowingly, and the story features no direct evidence or imagery from the supposed sources.
The lack of evidence has resulted in the story attracting ire from fans of the EV carmaker, with some referencing Lopez and Tesla CEO Elon Musk's past history of disagreement. This includes a fued over an article Lopez ran in 2018 which detailed how the brand was 'blowing through an insane amount of raw material and cash' to get its Model 3 in production.
It isn't the first time that Tesla products have been connected to issues around fires. In April of last year a Model S was caught on camera 'spontaneously' catching fire while parked in a parking lot in China. Later in the year, American chain store Walmart tried to sue Tesla over allegations that its solar panels were prone to catching fire — citing seven rooftop fires over a seven-year span.
Part of this connects to a wider narrative around next-generation vehicles and potential 'growing pains'. In August last year a Hyundai Kona EV exploded in Canada, blowing a hole through the ceiling of the garage it was parked in. A hydrogen explosion in Norway a few months earlier, meanwhile, resulted in Toyota and Hyundai temporarily pulling their hydrogen vehicles from sale locally.
Tesla are yet to respond to outlets regarding the claims.