Musk Claim of Fewer Tesla Fires Questioned in MIT Report - 11/21/13

by Angela Greiling Keane & Jeff Green

Tesla Motors Inc. cars have caught fire after collisions more often than gasoline-powered vehicles, according to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology report rebutting assertions by Elon Musk, the electric-car maker’s chief executive officer.

Because only 4 percent of vehicle fires are caused by collisions, Tesla’s Model S sedan, with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, is statistically more likely to catch fire in those incidents than cars with gasoline tanks, wrote Kevin Bullis, senior editor for energy for MIT Technology Review.

One in 32,603 registered vehicles catches fire compared with 1 in 6,333 of the Model S, Bullis said in a blog post today, using U.S. government data. Fewer than 1 percent of registered vehicles are plug-in electrics.

“Based on the limited data, Musk probably isn’t justified in making a strong claim that the Model S is less likely to catch fire,” Bullis wrote. “It’s also probably too early to make the reverse claim -- that the Model S is more likely to catch on fire.”

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