Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Model S catches fire—in the wrong way

Source: YouTube

Video of a Tesla Model S on fire in Washington state is raising questions about what caused the electric car to go up in flames. The driver was able to get out of the car before the fire spread to engulf much of the front-end.

The fire occurred in Kent, outside Seattle, after the Model S hit a large metal object in the middle of the road. In a written statement, Tesla confirmed the incident saying, "The car's alert system signaled a problem and instructed the driver to pull over safely, which he did. No one was injured, and the sole occupant had sufficient time to exit the vehicle safely and call the authorities."

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Kent firefighters put out the blaze and then released the car to its owner. Since there was no criminal activity and no one was hurt, the Kent Fire Department is not conducting any further investigation.

Video of the Model S on fire while sitting on the exit ramp of a highway was posted on YouTube on Wednesday afternoon. (Click here to watch the video. WARNING: Audio contains profanity.)

(Related video: Tesla's Model S scores top safety ratings)

Tesla shares drop, then rebound

Reports of the fire and the video being posted caused Tesla shares to drop more than 8 percent. The stock rebounded a bit in the last hour of the session but finished down 6.24 percent, at $180.95. The stock fell another 4.4 percent in morning trading Thursday.

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Tesla shares had been under pressure earlier in the day on a downgrade by Baird Equity Research, which shifted its rating on TSLA to neutral from outperform. Analyst Ben Kallo made the call based on the stock's valuation.

In a research note, Kallo wrote that any "hiccups in execution present stock price risk in the near to intermediate term." Baird's call is one of the few downgrades for a stock that has soared 507 percent in the last year.

Car fires rare for electric cars

The Model S fire may renew concerns with buyers about the safety of electrics cars. As Tesla, Nissan and General Motors were developing fully electric or extended-range electric cars, questions were raised about the possibility of the battery packs overheating and catching fire.

(Related video: Volkswagen plans to enter electric car biz)

Two years ago, GM redesigned the battery compartment of the Chevy Volt after a crash test resulted in a fire in one of the vehicles. Though no one was hurt, the incident heightened public scrutiny of the safety of the Volt battery system. No fires have been reported since in any of the almost 50,000 Volts sold.

Concerns about fires in electric cars baffle supporters of the zero emission vehicles. They point out how many gasoline-powered vehicles catch fire annually. Between 2006 and 2010 there were an estimated 152,300 vehicle blazes every year, according the National Fire Protection Association.

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

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