Tesla Model S Safety Investigation Launched

U.S. safety regulators have launched a formal investigation into Tesla Motors' Model S after several incidents of the electric cars catching fire.

Tesla Model S Safety Investigation Launched
CNN / Petrus Breedt

U.S. safety regulators have launched a formal investigation into Tesla Motors' Model S following several incidents of the electric cars catching fire.  

Investigators at the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration say the probe has been prompted by recent "battery fires due to undercarriage strikes with roadway debris" in Washington state and Tennessee. (Via USA Today

A Model S reportedly caught fire after a collision on November 6th — the third reported incident in less than six weeks. (Via Fox Business)

The New York Times reports: "Two of the fires occurred on American highways when the cars hit debris in the road. A third, in Mexico, took place after a high-speed crash into a wall and a tree. The drivers in all three incidents were unhurt."

The designation of the probe as a formal investigation is significant because it means the federal government could issue a recall, but that's something Tesla CEO Elon Musk says won't happen.  

"There is no reason for a recall I believe ... The perception is, if you read the headlines, it sounds like Teslas have a greater propensity to catch fire than other cars. In actuality, nothing could be further from the truth." (Via CNBC)

But Musk also announced through Tesla's blog that the company will be taking three new safety steps because of the fires. 

- Updated suspension on the Model S for greater ground clearance at highway speeds to reduce the chance of road debris striking the battery and igniting it  

- A full investigation into the fires by the NHTSA to prove the car isn't at any more risk of catching fire than a gasoline-fueled car 

- An amendment to the Model S warranty to cover any fire damage (Via Tesla Motors

Tesla's shares were down about 4.5 percent Tuesday morning before the markets opened. If investigators find the Model S doesn't not comply with safety standards it can recall the vehicle, but Tesla Motors would still have the possibility of challenging that judgment in court.