Recently, a Tesla Model S caught fire. Some media outlets went crazy, talking about how this is the bellwether that electric cars just aren’t ready yet.
Huh? There are over 150,000 car fires in the US every year and the one Tesla that catches fire is newsworthy?
Tesla, and Elon Musk, responded quickly to this Model S fire, as they should have. Keeping people in the dark is how rumors get started. Elon explained that a piece of metal debris punctured the front of the battery pack with the force of 25 tons.
With that level of force, what would happen to a typical internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle? Well, what’s in the front of the Model S? A “frunk” and the front of the battery pack. In an ICE vehicle? The engine.
On the left is the Tesla Model S. On the right is the Jaguar XKR. Between the front wheels of the Tesla is where the battery starts. Between the front wheels of the Jaguar is where the ICE resides.
Batteries make power by a chemical reaction. If you’ve ever opened a battery, it’s a black, gooey mess inside. Short-circuiting a battery can make the chemical reaction go crazy, starting a fire. That’s what the metal object did on the Tesla.
Internal combustion engines make power by compressing gas and air together at high pressure, then igniting it with a spark. If you were to open a working engine (don’t try that at home!), you would be sprayed with flaming, high-pressure gasoline.
If the ICE were to be punctured with the same metal object at the same point, the car would be up in flames in seconds. The Tesla? It alerted the driver to a catastrophic failure, and told him to pull over. Only minutes later after the car stopped and the driver exited the vehicle did the Tesla’s battery catch fire.
For me, I would rather have minutes to exit my vehicle than be instantly consumed by pressurized, flaming gasoline.