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NHTSA issues formal request for detailed information from Tesla on Model S battery pack

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued a formal—and legally enforceable—request for detailed information from Tesla Motors for the agency’s preliminary investigation into the battery pack of the Model S in the wake of two vehicle fires caused by impact with road debris. (Earlier post.)

German KBA concludes review of Model S fires
Tesla also received a recent inquiry from the German Federal Motor Transport Authority, Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt (KBA), regarding the Model S post-crash fire incidents in Seattle and Tennessee, as well as the one in Mexico.
In investigating these incidents, the KBA reviewed Tesla’s responses to their inquiries, as well as other information. They subsequently issued the following statement:
According to the documents, no manufacturer-related defects [herstellerseitiger Mangel] could be found. Therefore, no further measures under the German Product Safety Act [Produktsicherheitsgesetz (ProdSG)] are deemed necessary.

NHTSA is investigating underbody deformation in the Model S resulting from impacts with road debris including, but not limited to, consequent intrusion into the battery compartment and “associated risks to motor vehicle safety.” The specific component under investigation is the high-voltage propulsion battery, including its enclosure baseplate, its components and materials, and all of the components and materials contained within the enclosure, including the individual battery cells.

The request for information comprises 13 separate responses, ranging from the relatively straightforward such as vehicle production and sales information, consumer complaints, field reports, property damage claims, and so on; to more involved documented responses on Tesla’s internal processes in responding to claims and responses; on up to detailed descriptions of testing, engineering, design, and design mods. Confidential business information, NHTSA notes, should be sent directly to the Office of Chief Counsel.

Among the specific responses required in the last categories are:

  • All assessments, analyses, tests, test results, studies, surveys, simulations, investigations, inquiries and/or evaluations that relate to, or may relate to, the alleged defect in the subject vehicles that have been conducted, are planned, or are being planned.

  • Detailed engineering drawings depicting dimensional specifications of the subject component, including all subassemblies and mechanical, electrical and battery components.

  • A description of all modifications or changes in the design, material composition, manufacture, quality control, supply or installation of the pack.

  • All modifications or changes in the function and operation of the actively controlled suspension system.

  • A detailed description of all possible consequences to the vehicle form an impact to the pack.

  • Tesla’s assessment of the alleged defect, including causal factors, failure mechanism, failure model and risk to motor vehicle safety.

The documentation NHTSA seeks is basically anything written, printed, typed, or recorded, however produced or reproduced, “of every kind, nature and description”—ie., anything from email and notes to engineering blueprints and engineering data.

NHTSA is requiring full response from Tesla by 14 January 2014.



Which model and make actually has the highest propensity to catch on fire? It's not any of the EVs. In the US there are nearly 200,000 car fires annually and on average one person dies every day in a car fire. I think the NHTSA should publish a list of the rate at which every model sold in the US will catch fire, so that we can actually know which car is most likely to start on fire and burn us to death.

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