Tesla Says Model S Driver Unhurt in Mexico Crash

Tesla Motors Inc., the top-selling maker of premium electric cars, said a customer was unhurt in a crash and fire this month in Mexico in which a Model S struck a concrete barrier.

The accident happened Oct. 18 near Merida, Mexico, according to a report by Diario de Yucatan, which was confirmed by Liz Jarvis-Shean, a spokeswoman for Palo Alto, California-based Tesla. Photos and video of the crash show the car’s front end smashed by the barrier and flames consuming the vehicle.

“We were able to contact the driver quickly and are pleased that he is safe,” Jarvis-Shean said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. “This was a significant accident where the car was traveling at such a high speed that it smashed through a concrete wall and then hit a large tree, yet the driver walked away from the car with no permanent injury.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said last week it found no evidence that a Model S fire on a Washington state highway this month resulted from defects or violations of U.S. safety standards. In that Oct. 1 incident, the car struck metal debris that pierced its lithium-ion battery pack, according to state officials and Tesla.

The U.S. safety agency is aware of the incident in Mexico and will continue to monitor the performance of Tesla vehicles, it said late yesterday by e-mail. NHTSA doesn’t investigate vehicle accidents that happen outside the U.S., the agency said.

Quiet Acceleration

A spokesman for the state police of Yucatan, which includes Merida, wasn’t available to comment on the matter.

The quick-accelerating Model S, priced from about $70,000 to more than $100,000, quietly gets to high speeds without the sounds drivers are used to in gasoline-engine autos, said Karl Brauer, an industry analyst for Kelley Blue Book.

“In that sense, the sensation of speed is largely removed from the car,” said Brauer, who is based in Irvine, California. “There have been two serious accidents involving Model S, but there have been two serious accidents where the people inside the vehicles were fine.”

The driver involved in the Washington accident is trying to get a new Model S to replace his damaged car, Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk told Bloomberg Television last week. The Tesla customer in Mexico also plans to purchase another Model S, the company said.

“He is appreciative of the safety and performance of the car and has asked if we can expedite delivery of his next Model S,” Jarvis-Shean said.

‘Explosive’ Gasoline

Regulators formally investigated fires in two other battery-powered vehicles, General Motors Co.’s Chevrolet Volt and Fisker Automotive Inc.’s Karma.

Fisker agreed to a recall. GM voluntarily asked Volt owners to bring their cars in for service before NHTSA concluded its investigation. That avoided designating the action as an official recall because it wasn’t coordinated through NHTSA, GM said at the time.

“We’ve known that gasoline is explosive, but after 100 years we’ve gotten used to it,” Brauer said. “It’s not that electric cars are any more dangerous. If you pierce the battery pack, damage wiring and release that high voltage, odds are you’re going to have a fire.”

Tesla fell 4 percent to $162.86 yesterday in New York. The shares have surged more than fourfold this year, the biggest gain among more than 1,000 companies in the Russell 1000 Index, which is up 24 percent.

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