NHTSA rejects petition to investigate Tesla battery fires

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rejected a petition on Monday that called for an investigation into Tesla’s software updates, contending the odds are low that such an inquiry would find any safety issues.

The petition was filed in 2019, alleging that software updates made in response to a series of vehicle fires had decreased the distance electric cars could go before needing to be recharged, according to NHTSA’s decision regarding the petition.

The petition, filed by lawyer Edward Chen, cited five vehicle fires, including two in China that occurred after the cars were charged at Supercharger fast-charging stations, parked with the battery cooling system turned off, and with histories of high-stress usage for the high-voltage batteries. 

The other three vehicle fires occurred in Germany and the U.S. One vehicle in the U.S. had no Supercharging history and was driving when the blaze broke out, while the fire in the other vehicle occurred outside the high-voltage battery.

NHTSA wrote that it was denying the petition because there was no clear pattern, and the problems seemed to have stopped. 

“Given the absence of any incidents in the United States related to fast charging, and the absence of any such incidents globally since May 2019, it is unlikely that an order concerning the notification and remedy of a safety-related defect would be issued due to any investigation opened as a result of granting this petition,” NHTSA wrote.

“Therefore, upon full consideration of the information presented in the petition, and the potential risks to safety, the petition is denied,” the agency added.

NHTSA said it examined data included in the petition in addition to information from Tesla, as well as field data from non-crash fires, according to The Associated Press.

The agency also reportedly looked into software updates the battery management system underwent that was released by Tesla between May 2019 and now. 

Chen said in the petition that he was representing Tesla owners who saw range loss following software updates, according to the AP. He said the firmware updates were “alleged to be issued by Tesla in response to the alarming number of car fires that have occurred worldwide.”

An initial evaluation of the petition by the Office of Defects Investigation found that 30 of 52 complaints alleging lost battery capacity came from Tesla drivers who had enabled its “voltage limiting firmware.”

A fire broke out in Australia in August after a Tesla Megapack caught fire during testing. More than 150 firefighters and dozens of trucks were needed to put out the blaze.

The Hill reached out to Tesla and Chen for comment.

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