Skip to Content

Tesla Adds Shielding to Prevent Model S Fires, Protect EVs’ Reputation

Titanium sheets and additional aluminum deflect or block road debris, better protecting the lithium ion battery in the Model S.
March 28, 2014

This morning Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, announced that, in response to three vehicle fires last year, Tesla is adding additional shielding to the undercarriage of its Model S electric car. Two of the fires started after the cars ran into objects in the road, damaging the lithium ion battery. The last occurred when the driver ran into a concrete wall going 110 miles per hour, Musk said.

In the announcement, CEO Elon Musk said the changes weren’t needed for safety, noting that no one was hurt in the fires. The fires developed slowly, allowing passengers to get out of the car, and didn’t spread to the passenger area of the cars. The National Highway Safety Administration is investigating the accidents.

Lithium ion batteries can catch fire if damaged—a short between the positive and negative electrodes can cause overheating and ignite the solvent-based electrolyte. Electric vehicles are still in their infancy, and some experts have worried that battery fires could give the technology a bad name. 

The new shielding adds to the quarter-inch-thick aluminum plate that already protects the battery. Here’s how Musk describes it:

The first of the three shields is a rounded, hollow aluminum bar that is designed to either deflect objects entirely or, in the case of a self-stabilizing, ultra high strength object, like a three ball steel tow hitch, absorb the impact and force it to pike upwards well forward of the battery pack. This pierces the plastic aeroshield and front trunk liner, but causes no damage affecting safety and the car remains in control and driveable before, during and after the impact.

This is followed by a titanium plate, which has exceptional strength-to-weight properties and is more commonly seen in aerospace or military applications. The titanium plate prevents sensitive front underbody components from being damaged and aids in neutralizing the road debris.

By this point, the vast majority of objects will have been deflected or crushed. For the rare piece of debris that remains intact, we added a third shield, which is a shallow angle, solid aluminum extrusion that further absorbs impact energy, provides another layer of deflection and finally causes the Model S to ramp up and over the object if it is essentially incompressible and immovable.

Tesla provided some impressive video of the shielding deflecting or demolishing a steel trailer hitch, concrete block, and an alternator, without, Musk says, allowing significant damage to the battery.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

individual aging affects covid outcomes concept
individual aging affects covid outcomes concept

Anti-aging drugs are being tested as a way to treat covid

Drugs that rejuvenate our immune systems and make us biologically younger could help protect us from the disease’s worst effects.

close up of baby with a bottle
close up of baby with a bottle

The baby formula shortage has birthed a shady online marketplace

Desperate parents just want to feed their babies. They’re having to contend with misinformation, price gouging, and scams along the way.

"Olive Garden" NFTs concept
"Olive Garden" NFTs concept

I tried to buy an Olive Garden NFT. All I got was heartburn.

Our newest issue spells out what you need to know about the dizzying world of digital money.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.