Tesla CEO Elon Musk wants to make it clear that the three Model S fires that happened last year were extremely rare instances–a blip compared with the 200,000 gasoline car fires in North America in 2013. Still, to ease consumers’ concerns, he announced Friday that the company is installing a titanium underbody shield and aluminum deflector plates to new Model S electric cars. Furthermore, Musk said Tesla will retrofit the shield of existing cars upon request or as part of scheduled maintenance at no cost to owners.
“The odds of fire in a Model S, at roughly 1 in 8,000 vehicles, are five times lower than those of an average gasoline car and, when a fire does occur, the actual combustion potential is comparatively small,” he wrote in a blog post Friday. “Nonetheless, we felt it was important to bring this risk down to virtually zero to give Model S owners complete peace of mind.”
Conducting 152 vehicle tests, Musk said the shields, which are installed in cars manufactured March 6 and later, “prevented any damage that could cause a fire.” The shields consist of three layers–aluminum, titanium, and aluminum–to deflect objects, prevent damage to components, and absorb impact. Earlier in January, Tesla recalled 29,000 Model S chargers for concerns of fire hazards, providing an over-the-air software update to reduce heat in high-resistance connections. The company is also engineering a new adapter plug to improve reliability.
Pointing to an extreme case, Musk said this shield could’ve even prevented the Model S fire that occurred after smashing into a roundabout at 110 miles per hour in Mexico last year:
[The fire] happened after the vehicle impacted a roundabout at 110 mph, shearing off 15 feet of concrete curbwall and tearing off the left front wheel, then smashing through an eight foot tall buttressed concrete wall on the other side of the road and tearing off the right front wheel, before crashing into a tree. The driver stepped out and walked away with no permanent injuries and a fire, again limited to the front section of the vehicle, started several minutes later. The underbody shields will help prevent a fire even in such a scenario.