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Owner of flaming Tesla says he's 'still a big fan'

Friday, 4 Oct 2013 | 5:06 PM ET
Tesla's Musk responds to fire
Friday, 4 Oct 2013 | 3:43 PM ET
CNBC's Phil LeBeau reports that Tesla's Elon Musk has responded to the Model S fire just outside Seattle.

The owner of a Tesla Model S that caught fire after he drove over a metal object that punctured the car's battery says his luxury EV performed as it should. Robert Carlson sent an e-mail to Tesla describing how the fire developed. "I am still a big fan of your car and look forward to getting back into one," wrote Carlson.

Carlson is also a Tesla shareholder who says his Model S performed well during an extreme test. He added, "The batteries went through a controlled burn, which the internet images really exaggerate."

A screenshot from a YouTube video shows a Tesla Model S on fire as a result of a battery fire.
Source: YouTube
A screenshot from a YouTube video shows a Tesla Model S on fire as a result of a battery fire.

The video of Carlson's Model S on fire was posted online Tuesday afternoon and went viral Wednesday. Despite the spectacular flames in the home video, Carlson escaped unharmed and the fire never entered the main cabin of the Model S. (Click here to watch the video. WARNING: Audio contains profanity.)

Musk defends battery technology

In a blog posted on the Tesla website, CEO Elon Musk released the correspondence from Carlson along with a lengthy defense of the Model S and electric-vehicle technology.

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Musk described the cause of the incident, writing, "A curved section that fell off a semi-trailer was recovered from the roadway near where the accident occurred and, according to the road crew that was on the scene, appears to be the culprit. The geometry of the object caused a powerful lever action as it went under the car, punching upward and impaling the Model S with a peak force on the order of 25 tons. Only a force of this magnitude would be strong enough to punch a 3 inch diameter hole through the quarter-inch armor plate protecting the base of the vehicle."

The Tesla CEO says the car alerted Carlson, as it should, and the fire was contained within the battery pack. He then issued a strong defense for the safety of electric cars and downplayed the potential threat of EV battery packs catching fire.

"For consumers concerned about fire risk, there should be absolutely zero doubt that it is safer to power a car with a battery than a large tank of highly flammable liquid," he wrote.

Tesla shares rebound

The Model S fire and the online video fueled a selloff of Tesla shares Wednesday afternoon and all day Thursday. During those two days, the stock fell 11% and posted its biggest two-day decline since July. That happened despite some analysts coming to Tesla's defense and saying the Model S fire was likely an isolated one-time event. On Friday, shares of TSLA rebounded 4.4 percent, clawing back some of the losses, but still ended the week down 5.2 percent at $180.98.

—By CNBC's Phil LeBeau. Follow him on Twitter @LeBeauCarNews.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com.

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  • Phil LeBeau is a CNBC auto and airline industry reporter based in the Chicago bureau and editor of the Behind the Wheel section on CNBC.com.

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