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US regulators probe ‘spontaneous’ fire of top-end Tesla

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This handout image released by law firm Geragos & Geragos shows a Tesla Model S Plaid in flames in a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on June 29, 2021./AFP
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Jul 03, 2021 - 09:17 AM

SAN FRANCISCO — US transportation safety regulators said Friday they are probing an incident in which a brand-new Tesla apparently burst into flames, temporarily trapping the driver, with firefighters needing more than two hours to extinguish the blaze.

The cause of the fire that scorched the Model S Plaid on Tuesday remained undetermined, and a lawyer representing the car’s owner called for the vehicle to be taken off roads.

“This is a harrowing and frightening situation and an obvious major problem,” attorney Mark Geragos told AFP.

“Our preliminary investigation is ongoing, but we call on Tesla to sideline these cars until a full investigation can occur.”

Geragos retweeted a post that said the car “spontaneously combusted” and the driver “was trapped & could have died.”

His firm released a photo showing the sedan, which has a price tag of $129,990, engulfed in flames.

Tesla did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment.

Firefighters said the car was ablaze when first responders arrived at the scene in a township near Philadelphia.

They had to take special precautious due to the car’s large battery, which was on fire, with “copious” amounts of water poured on the Tesla for more than two hours, according to firefighters.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told AFP it is probing the fire.

“If data or investigations show a defect or an inherent risk to safety exists, NHTSA will take action as appropriate to protect the public,” a spokesperson said.

The investigation comes as US safety regulators are focusing on accidents involving cars made by Tesla and other auto manufacturers with driver assistance systems.

The move comes after a fatal Tesla crash in Texas earlier this year in which police said there was no one behind the wheel.

Tesla has said the car’s Autopilot system was not engaged in the incident and that it believes the driver was indeed behind the steering wheel.

Tesla’s technology also garnered unwanted publicity from Consumer Reports testers who demonstrated how to “fool” Autopilot into driving a Tesla without anyone behind the wheel.

The company describes Autopilot as a driver enhancement system that, despite its name, requires a human operator.

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