Sometimes cars go up in flames. It happens surprisingly often and for many different reasons. In 2011 alone, there were 187,500 vehicle fires reported in the US. It's not usually a big deal.
However, when it happens to a car from a new manufacturer, in a car that uses different technology than what we're accustomed to – especially one linked to sensational exploding cell phone and laptop stories – it gets a lot of attention. Exhibit A: the Tesla Model S that turned into a Tennessee CarBQ a couple days ago after running over "road debris" lying on the highway.
Reaction has ranged from alarm to defensiveness. Tesla stock (TSLA) continued to slide slightly downward on Friday and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is reportedly going to look into the situation, though a formal inquiry hasn't been announced. Supporters have taken to the internet to defend the safety record of electric vehicles and there is now even a "Not a Tesla" Facebook page collecting pictures of assorted vehicles in various stages of immolation.
Perhaps the most interesting and informative reaction, however, is that of the owner of the vehicle in question. Juris Shibayama was driving his Model S at 70 miles per hour when he says he came upon a three-pronged trailer hitch lying in the middle of his lane. With no time to swerve, Shibayama drove over the metal object, which harshly impacted with the bottom of his car.
In a blog entry on Tesla's website, he tells how the vehicle sensed a problem and warned that there was an issue. Shortly thereafter it advised him to safely pull over, as it was going to shut down. He was able to stop and get out of the car before smoke began to appear, but within minutes, flames had begun consuming the front end.
Interestingly, despite the fire, the door handles still responded to the key fob and extended themselves when approached, saving the firemen the trouble of prying the doors open. Shibayama notes that the damage was limited to the front of the vehicle, leaving the passenger compartment untouched.
All in all, he seems impressed with how the Model S behaved throughout the incident and we think its safe to say he's looking forward to getting a replacement. The question is, of course, would you be? Let us know in Comments.