Electric cars pose different risks, not more, U.S. regulator says

NHTSA is investigating two Model S fires in the U.S. that resulted from battery packs being punctured by road debris. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

DETROIT -- Electric cars including Tesla Motors Inc.'s Model S pose different risks than gasoline-powered models while being as safe overall, the top U.S. auto-safety regulator said Tuesday.

"We believe they don't pose any greater risks than gasoline-fueled vehicles," David Friedman, deputy administrator of the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said in an interview today at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

"Do they pose different risks? Certainly," he said.

Friedman's agency is investigating two Model S fires in the U.S. that resulted from battery packs being punctured by road debris.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Jan. 10 that the company would replace adapters in the Model S, after at least a half-dozen reports appeared on a Web site for Tesla owners saying that wall plugs had heated, at some point to smoking or melting, as the cars were being recharged in garages.

The replacement effort will be handled as a recall, though customers don't have to take their vehicles to a service center.

A NHTSA team that includes engineers and people who study consumer behavior is looking at electric cars, said Friedman, who is leading the agency after the departure of former leader David Strickland.

"People aren't used to the new challenges that electric vehicles pose," he said. "We're taking this issue seriously. We want to make sure electric vehicles are safe."

NHTSA has an interest in seeing electric cars gain consumer acceptance, as part of its mission is to increase average fuel economy of U.S. vehicles, he said.

Tesla responsive

Friedman said Musk and his team are doing a good job responding to regulators' requests, after a public spat between company executives and Strickland over who initiated the Model S investigation.

"The other dynamics aren't important," he said.

Musk and other Tesla executives today took issue with the adapter replacement and a related software update, made in December, being labeled a recall.

"NHTSA may sometimes call this a recall," Jerome Guillen, vice president of worldwide sales and service, told reporters in Detroit Tuesday. "We call it modern technology."

ATTENTION COMMENTERS: Automotive News has monitored a significant increase in the number of personal attacks and abusive comments on our site. We encourage our readers to voice their opinions and argue their points. We expect disagreement. We do not expect our readers to turn on each other. We will be aggressively deleting all comments that personally attack another poster, or an article author, even if the comment is otherwise a well-argued observation. If we see repeated behavior, we will ban the commenter. Please help us maintain a civil level of discourse.

Email Newsletters
  • General newsletters
  • (Weekdays)
  • (Mondays)
  • (As needed)
  • Video newscasts
  • (Weekdays)
  • (Weekdays)
  • (Saturdays)
  • Special interest newsletters
  • (Thursdays)
  • (Tuesdays)
  • (Monthly)
  • (Monthly)
  • (Wednesdays)
  • (Bimonthly)
  • Special reports
  • (As needed)
  • (As needed)
  • Communication preferences
  • You can unsubscribe at any time through links in these emails. For more information, see our Privacy Policy.