Electric cars are feeling the heat after a handful of random combustions. Last week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced it would launch a federal investigation into the Tesla Model S to assess whether the car’s lithium-ion battery pack played any role in recent vehicle fires. Different reports have labeled the car as among the safest on the market, and the company defends its design, but concerns remain.
Tesla isn’t the only electric-car manufacturer whose products have caught on fire; Chevy and Fisker have experienced problems as well. Promoted aggressively by the Obama administration, electric cars have not proven popular with the driving public and are becoming known more for their mishaps and limitations than for their benefits.
Here are six episodes of electric cars catching on fire:
1. Fisker fire burns down a garage.
Authorities in Sugar Land, Texas, ruled that the Fisker Karma parked in the attached garage of a newly built home was the origin of a fire in 2012 that completely destroyed the car as well as the garage and a portion of the house, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of damage. The owner and his family escaped safely.
2. A parked Chevy Volt combusts.
In 2011, Bloomberg reported that a Chevy Volt in Wisconsin had ignited. Ironically, the car was parked outside a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration testing center where it had undergone tests three weeks earlier. The blaze was big enough to burn other nearby vehicles, according to reports.
3. Another Fisker Karma erupts into flames.
A resident of Woodside, Calif., came out of a grocery store last year to find that his parked Fisker Karma had burst into flames while he was inside. No one was injured, the fire was put out before causing damage beyond the car, and the owner was reportedly upset.
4. A Tesla driver recounts a near brush with death.
A Tennessee Tesla Model S driver pulled over his car and got out just minutes before it caught on fire. As he was driving, a warning sign on the dashboard had alerted him: “Car needs service. Car may not restart.” The car then flashed this message: “Please pull over safely. Car is shutting down.” He followed the prompt and pulled off the highway. “The experience does not in any way make me think that the Tesla Model S is an unsafe car,” the driver said, noting that the car had provided him with warnings he deemed adequate. “I would buy another one in a heartbeat.”
5. A damaged battery pack ignites a Seattle-area fire.
In Kent, Wash., another Tesla Model S burst into flames after a metallic object hit the car’s battery pack, stored beneath the floor of the passenger compartment. Firefighters attempting to put out the fire initially found that water seemed to intensify the flames, according to the Seattle Times. The crew used a dry-chemical extinguisher and dismantled part of the car before managing to extinguish the blaze. Concerns over the car’s safety caused the company’s shares to drop more than 6 percent after video of the incident emerged.
6. Short circuits in batteries, due to Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge, lead to a 16-car fire.
During the hurricane, an entire shipment from Europe of Fisker Karmas was parked in a New Jersey port, awaiting delivery to dealers around the country. Like all Fiskers, the cars had been built in Finland, after the company received a taxpayer-funded loan of $529 million from the Department of Energy. Of the 300 cars in the New Jersey port, 16 caught on fire and burned to the ground. Fisker released a statement saying that short circuits caused by exposure to the salt in seawater had sparked the fires. High winds from the storm caused the fire to spread, resulting in $1.6 million in losses.
— Andrew Johnson is an editorial associate at National Review.