Despite Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk’s defense of Model S safety following two fires last year, the company announced new safety improvements to its premiere model Friday to prevent the battery from accidentally igniting.
“These incidents, unfortunately, received more national headlines than the other 200,000 gasoline car fires that happened last year in North America alone,” Musk said on Medium. “In both cases, the occupants walked away unharmed, thanks to the car’s safety features.”
A new titanium shield and aluminum deflector plates have been added to the vehicle’s undercarriage — where the battery is stored — and will be outfitted on all future production models. Existing purchases are eligible to get the upgrade for free.
The first aluminum bar deflects objects and forces them up away from the battery pack area, while the second titanium plate protects the sensitive components at the front of the car and neutralizes road debris. The third shallow angle extruding aluminum shield either crushes what’s left or pushes the Model S up and over objects in a ramp-like position.
As Model S production ramped up last year and more units hit the streets, instances of Tesla’s catching fire occurred when the cars hit metal objects in the road at high speed, puncturing the battery and sparking a flame. Instances were escalated as a result of fire departments tearing open the battery housing to reach and extinguish the flame, which instead exposed it to more oxygen and effectively fed it.
Thanks to the additional new shielding and the ”existing quarter inch of ballistic grade aluminum armor plate that already protects the battery pack,” the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has officially closed the investigation into Model S fires.
Tesla tested the new shielding 152 times by hitting objects like concrete blocks, a steel alternator and metal tow hitch, none of which caused any damage to the car. The additional weight will only have a 0.1 impact on the car’s range, according to Musk.
Tests were filmed with high-speed cameras attached to a Model S underbelly, which captured numerous strikes at high speed yielding no result.
“With a track record of zero deaths or serious, permanent injuries since our vehicles went into production six years ago, there is no safer car on the road than a Tesla,” Musk said. “The addition of the underbody shields simply takes it a step further.”