US government to investigate Tesla

US government to investigate Tesla

An investigation into battery fires in Tesla Model S electric cars has been opened by the US government's car safety watchdog.

The National Highway Traffic Administration launched its investigation after fires broke out in two cars in America. On both occasions the drivers were unhurt in the incidents, which occur when undercarriage of the car strikes metal debris on the road, piercing the batteries and causing a thermal reaction.

More than 13,000 cars in the US are set to be affected by the probe. Tesla has sold 19,000 of the 2013 model worldwide.

Experts have said that batteries held beneath the passenger compartment can cause arcing and sparks if the quarter-inch-thick metal shield is damaged.

The preliminary investigation will evaluate the potential risks associated with undercarriage strikes on Tesla cars. Should the National Highway Traffic Administration find that undercarriage strikes are likely to cause a problem they could issue a recall, although a decision is likely to be months away.

The manufacturer had asked the government to investigate the risk, even though its cars are far less likely to catch fire than petrol-powered vehicles, chief executive Elon Musk said.

"While we think it is highly unlikely, if something is discovered that would result in a material improvement in occupant fire safety, we will immediately apply that change to new cars and offer it as a free retrofit to all existing cars," he said.

Copyright Press Association 2013