Tesla Says Model S, Charger Didn’t Cause Garage Fire

Dec 19, 2013 4:09 pm ET

(Updates with closing share price in final paragraph.)

Dec. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Tesla Motors Inc., the electric-car maker being reviewed by U.S. regulators over battery-related fires, said its Model S and charging system didn’t cause a fire in a Southern California garage last month.

While there was a fire at the wall socket where the vehicle was plugged in, the car itself wasn’t burned, Palo Alto, California-based Tesla said in e-mailed comments. Investigators can’t conclude whether the fire started in the wall socket or was caused by the charger, and found it had nothing to do with the battery, Steve Concialdi, a spokesman for the Orange County Fire Authority, said by phone yesterday.

Shares of Tesla, led by billionaire Elon Musk, have plunged more than 25 percent from this year’s peak in September after three reports of battery-related fires in the Model S in October and November. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an inquiry Nov. 19 after the last fire.

“The cable was fine on the vehicle side; the damage was on the wall side,” Tesla said of the garage fire. “Our inspection of the car and the battery made clear that neither were the source” of the fire, it said.

Tesla’s comments came after Reuters said yesterday, citing a report by the Orange County Fire Authority, that the Nov. 15 fire in Irvine, California, may have been caused by an overheated charging system for the Tesla vehicle.

The Orange County Fire Authority has completed its investigation and will leave it to Tesla and insurance companies to make a determination on the cause of the fire, Concialdi said. Fire damage to the wall socket makes it difficult to determine whether the cause was faulty wiring, he said.

No Injuries

No one was hurt in the prior three fires, which resulted from collisions that damaged the lithium-ion battery casing. In two of the fires, vehicle owners hit metal debris on the road while driving at highway speeds. Last month, Tesla updated the Model S’s suspension system software for greater ground clearance at highway speeds to cut the risk of such incidents.

Nathan Naylor, a spokesman for the highway administration, said he had no immediate comment on the Irvine garage fire.

Besides inspecting the car and charging cable in the garage, Tesla reviewed a data log that records the vehicle’s charging cycles.

“The battery had been charging normally, and there were no fluctuations in temperature or malfunctions within the battery or the charge electronics,” Tesla said.

Tesla shares reached a closing peak of $193.37 in New York trading this year and have climbed more than fourfold in the period. The stock fell 4.9 percent to $140.72 at the close, for the biggest one-day drop since Nov. 18.

--With assistance from Angela Greiling Keane in Washington. Editors: Lena Lee, Niamh Ring