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NHTSA Investigating Third Tesla Fire in Six Weeks

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Nov. 18, 2013—The third battery fire involving a Tesla Model S in six weeks has drawn the attention of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

According to multiple reports, the federal agency investigated the charred body of a Model S in Smyrna, Tenn., just outside Nashville, last week. The vehicle caught fire after a collision with a trailer hitch on Interstate 24. The driver was unharmed.

Similar incidents occurred in Kent, Wash., on Oct. 1 and Merida, Mexico, on Oct. 18. The NHTSA does not have jurisdiction in Mexico, and the agency had previously said it would not open a formal investigation after the Washington state fire was blamed on a metal road rod piercing the armored bottom of the 4,600-pound Tesla, hitting its front battery.

The $69,000 to $100,000 all-electric sedan earned top crash-test ratings from NHTSA and top reviews from Trend and Consumer Reports magazines.

Some safety experts, however, have warned about the dangers of the placement of the battery on the underside of the vehicle, making it vulnerable to debris.

"Three fires is a big number out of 19,000 [sold]," said Clarence Ditlow, head of the Center for Auto Safety, according to reports. "They have to open an investigation."

Tesla co-founder Elon Musk, speaking at a recent conference, said all three blazes were caused by crashes, not battery problems. "There's no reason for a recall," he said. "If you read the headlines, it sounds like Teslas have a greater propensity to catch fires than other cars. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth."

"We have never had a serious injury or death in any of our cars," said Musk. "Maybe there is a car as safe as the Model S, but there is certainly not a car that is safer."

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