SHANGHAI -- After a video went viral on the Internet showing a Tesla Model S in flames following an Oct. 1 accident on a highway in suburban Seattle, Tesla CEO Elon Musk defended the safety of the electric car in a blog on the company's Web site.
He explained what happened to the Model S and how the vehicle, thanks to its design, protected the driver from harm during the accident.
The explanation led many people to appreciate the engineering quality of the Tesla Model S.
Chinese observers like me were even more impressed by the way Tesla communicated with owners and the general public. And I believe there are two big lessons here for China's EV makers.
First, Tesla immediately contacted the owner and later explained the mishap to the public.
According to Tesla's Web site, Tesla's sales chief and regional service manager reached out to the car owner shortly after the video of the burning car hit the Web. One day later, Musk posted his blog.
Second, Tesla offered a complete explanation of the mishap.
Musk described how the vehicle's battery pack was damaged after the car hit a metal object and how the vehicle was designed to contain the fire and provide the occupant with a safe exit.
Tesla also published the e-mails that sales chief Jerome Guillen exchanged with the car's owner.
Guillen's e-mail described the company's initial findings about the accident.
Tesla's effort to share the information sharply contrasts with the response of two Chinese EV makers after their vehicles were involved in serious accidents.
In 2011, an electric taxi built by Zotye Holding Group Co. burst into flames on a street in the east China city of Hangzhou. Zotye's managers rushed to the scene but offered no explanation about the cause of the fire.
Two months later, city officials learned that the fire had been caused by liquid that had leaked from several batteries.
Throughout the investigation, the battery supplier, Wanxiang Group, remained silent. Even worse, the city government issued a vaguely worded report that led many to suspect it was colluding with the automaker and its battery maker to cover up any problems.
That kind of behavior does not inspire confidence among potential customers.
Here's another example. Last year, an electric taxi caught fire after it was hit by a Nissan GT-R in the south China city of Shenzhen. The taxi driver and his two passengers were killed.
BYD Co. had built the taxi, but company executives did not step forward to discuss the accident.
Instead, the company issued a short statement a few days later that stressed the safety of the car's battery pack.
Five weeks later, the city government's investigation cleared BYD of any responsibility. But since the company had failed to communicate with the public, its stock price plunged 30 percent.
Electric vehicles feature a lot of complicated technologies. Few reasonable people would expect an EV to be as trouble-free as a vehicle powered by gasoline.
But when cutting-edge technology fails in such catastrophic ways, consumers want to know the cause. Musk understood that; BYD and Zotye did not.
Musk did a good job explaining why the Model S had caught fire. It's time for Chinese automakers to learn from his example.