A high-end Tesla Model S Plaid caught fire Tuesday night in Haverford, Pennsylvania, briefly trapping the driver inside, according to the owner’s lawyer, who also said the vehicle “spontaneously combusted.”
Firefighters from both the Gladwyne and Lower Merion Fire Departments arrived on the scene shortly before 9PM ET on Tuesday. The firefighters, who had been trained on how to respond to battery fires involving Tesla vehicles, “laid a 5 inch supply line into the scene so that we could keep a continual water stream on the fire to extinguish the fire and cool the batteries down to ensure complete extinguishment,” according to a statement from the Gladwyne Fire Department. The driver managed to escape and there were no injuries reported.
Tesla’s Model S Plaid is a high-end, ultra-quick version of the automaker’s original electric sedan. Tesla CEO Elon Musk held a splashy event last month to announce the first customer deliveries of the $130,000 vehicle. According to Ben Meiselas, a lawyer who works for the firm representing the unnamed owner, the Model S Plaid was one of the first 250 vehicles shipped to customers.
Our firm & @AthleteDefender represent an exec who purchased new Tesla Plaid Model S, which was 1/250 shipped. On Tuesday it spontaneously combusted. Our client was trapped & could have died. We tried reaching out to Tesla & have been ignored so far. This is car after escape. pic.twitter.com/wXyJXbWggJ— Ben Meiselas (@meiselasb) July 1, 2021
“This is a harrowing and frightening situation and an obvious major problem,” said Mark Geragos, another attorney representing the owner. “Our preliminary investigation is ongoing, but we call on Tesla to sideline these cars until a full investigation can occur.”
There’s no evidence that electric vehicles catch fire at a rate that’s any different from internal combustion cars, but the topic has received increased scrutiny as more EVs hit the road. First responders are even being trained to handle EV battery fires since they can’t be extinguished via some traditional methods.
Tesla’s vehicle fires have especially caught a lot of attention — to the point that Musk has publicly pushed back on the coverage of those incidents. Some companies, like Chevrolet, Hyundai, Audi, and NIO, have issued recalls over the possibility of fires in their EVs. Others, like Jaguar, have experienced isolated fires with their electric cars.
Tesla has maintained that its cars are the safest in the world and self-reports annual vehicle fire statistics that are far lower than those found in gasoline-powered cars. The company has made multiple changes to the Model S over the years to reduce the risk of fires, though.
It shipped a software update in 2013 that made the Model S ride higher at highway speeds to lower the chance of debris puncturing the battery pack and added more physical protection to new packs coming off the line. Both those updates were sent after a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigation into multiple fires. (The agency closed the investigation in 2014.) Tesla also released a software update in 2016 to “provide extra security during charging” after a Model S caught fire in Norway.
Incidents involving Teslas tend to draw more media attention than other vehicles because of the company’s tendency to push the limits on technology, whether it’s battery density, partial autonomy, or vehicle design. Tesla is lauded by its many fans for its willingness to go beyond the comfort zone of more conservative, legacy automakers. And with that also comes more scrutiny from media outlets and regulators.
A spokesperson for Tesla did not respond to a request for comment about the fire, which is unsurprising considering the company has dissolved its public relations department and hasn’t responded to any inquiry in the last two years.
Update July 5th 8:30AM ET: A lawyer for the owner said they were briefly trapped inside the vehicle, not the fire department. A previous version of this story had that flipped.