Tesla Model S Bursts Into Flames In West Hollywood — Is That News?

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On June 15, Micheal Morris, a television director, was driving his Tesla Model S in West Hollywood, California, when another motorist warned him that smoke was coming from underneath his car. He pulled over and exited the vehicle. His wife, actress Mary McCormack, then took a video of the car as flames burst from underneath. She says the car was being driven normally in traffic and that Autopilot was not involved.

Lieutenant William Nash of the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Department told The Guardian that firefighters were called. They responded to the incident and quickly extinguished the flames. There were no injuries reported. Later, McCormack posted her video to her Twitter account.

Okay, some of you out there are asking, “Why is this news?” Good question. Here’s the answer: This is news because it is on the front page of The Guardian‘s US news feed at 6:30 am on a Sunday morning. According to the National Fire Prevention Association, in 2015, there were 174,000 gasoline vehicle fires in America. 445 people died as a result of those fires, and 1,550 were injured. My trusty Radio Shack calculator says 174,000 fires translates into 476 per day. Yet none of those made The Guardian‘s news feed as far as we’ve seen. The news is: this fire made the news.

The reason this story made the news is because the media considers Tesla fires of significant interest to the community but ignores fires in conventional cars. Fear is a big motivator of human behavior. If people fear electric cars, they won’t buy them in the quantities needed to drive the EV revolution forward.

Don’t think for a minute traditional car companies aren’t loving anything that will slow the progress of that revolution and do whatever they can to exploit such incidents whenever possible. Those folks buy hundreds of millions of dollars worth of advertising every year. What they say and do matters hugely to the people who receive all that money.

Elon Musk’s empire — and by extension the entire electric car movement — is like an airship kept aloft by the hopes and prayers of the faithful. If all those good feelings were to somehow evaporate, the whole thing could crashing down, and then we could all get back to buying battalions of pickup trucks from General Motors, Ford, and Dodge the way good Americans are supposed to do.

One bit of good news is that the fire department in West Hollywood was able to extinguish the blaze in short order without drama. Sometimes battery fires can take a long time to put out. In a statement, Tesla said this was “an extraordinarily unusual occurrence.” The company has begun an investigation.

Battery fires are scary and are one of the reasons why researchers around the world are working feverishly to develop solid-state batteries that will be less likely to overheat and catch fire. Perhaps one day, the news will be that there is no news about battery fires or gasoline fires to report.

The video from Mary McCormack is now available on YouTube, where it has garnered this snarky comment — “That car has Tesla’s proprietary flamethrower technology,” which is pretty darn funny when you think about it. That’s all the exploding battery news for today. We now return you to your regular programming, already in progress.

Editor’s note: I’d also add that this is news because almost everything Tesla does is news. People, and thus media agencies, are obsessed with Tesla. It is a fascinating and important company in many respects. Competitors are bitter about all the frivolous good press Tesla gets, while Elon Musk and Tesla are often upset about frivolous or misguided negative press Tesla gets. The bottom line is that Tesla gets a ton of press, so we can only expect both positive and negative.

Additionally, electric cars are still novel to many people and he market is growing fast. It would be much cooler if the press had the sense to more frequently and intelligently cover the 30 or so benefits of electric cars, but hey, unusual fires get more clicks. We knew that already.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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