Tesla Motors Model S Gets Some New Protection for Its Battery

By Steve Anderson March 31, 2014

An electric car company that has one battery fire might be explained away as coincidence. But one that has two—one of which was a huge view generator on YouTube, at last report—or more likely has plenty of explaining to do. But with the conclusion of the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency's (NHTSA) investigation of Tesla comes a new development for future pieces in the Model S line: a set of new underbody shields geared toward the protection of the car's powerful battery system.

The Model S, regarded by many as Tesla's “signature sedan,” now boasts a pack of three new shields to the underbody assembly to help protect the batteries should the car suffer an impact. That joins the previous safety measure where Tesla changed software that allowed the car to raise and lower itself based on the car's traveling speed, keeping the car at a higher starting ground clearance.

These two points—the higher ground clearance and the new underbody shielding—add up to good marks in the wake of the NHTSA's investigation into the firm, with documents from the agency reportedly noting that the NHTSA “believes impacts with road debris are normal and foreseeable.” The documents further amplify its perception of Tesla by noting, “In this case, Tesla’s revision of vehicle ride height and addition of increased underbody protection should reduce both the frequency of underbody strikes and the resultant fire risk.”

This all likely sounds like great news for those considering buying a Tesla car, but for those who already have said car, not so much. Tesla is taking things a step farther here, however, by offering to “retrofit the shields, free of charge, to existing cars upon request or as part of a normally scheduled service.”

Some might have thought that the fix was in, as the NHTSA forcing a recall on the company could have done disastrous things to Tesla's stock price, but there's support for Tesla's plan from Kelley Blue Book, whose senior analyst Karl Brauer noted that Tesla “...has added substantial protective measures to the underbody of the Model S,” and that the resulting upgrades “...should further reduce the chance of a battery pack puncture. Given that no punctures have been reported over the past four months, even without the added protection, this fix should eliminate the potential of a battery-pack fire under all but the most extreme circumstances.”

This should likely come as welcome news, both for Tesla and Tesla's potential buyers. Indeed, a recall would have been a disaster for Tesla, still a comparatively new firm in the field. But it's hard to deny that Tesla has certainly put quite a bit into retooling the cars, between the change in the ground clearance and the battery shielding, so a recall really may never have been necessary in the first place. Half the point of a recall, after all, is to get a dangerous or potentially dangerous product out of the public's hands, but with Tesla's fixes in play, the product really isn't so dangerous. It might be a particularly good move for Tesla to mail out some notices about the effort—if it hasn't already—but aside from that Tesla looks like it's doing what can be done here.

Some may think Tesla could go farther here. Others may think Tesla's gone far enough. But regardless of stance upon the issues, Tesla is clearly out to fix at least some of its issues and should be well-received in the public on the strength of those protections.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

Contributing TechZone360 Writer

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