Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Musk comes out swinging in face of federal probe of Tesla

Regulators probe Tesla fires
Regulators probe Tesla fires

With the federal government opening a formal investigation into the safety of Tesla Model S battery systems, CEO Elon Musk is questioning why the electric car is being scrutinized.

Musk took to Twitter on Tuesday:

@elonmusk:"Why does a Tesla fire w/ no injury get more media headlines than 100,000 gas car fires that kill 100s of people per year?"

@elonmusk: What makes this incredibly unjust is that the Model S to date has the best safety record of any car on the road (no injuries or deaths ever)

Tesla CEO Elon Musk at the 2013 New York Times DealBook Conference
Getty Images

The tweets are the latest public comment from Musk defending the safety of the Model S.

At The New York Times Dealbook Conference last week, he was asked about the Model S inquiry and didn't hesitate to proclaim that the popular electric car would not be recalled.

(Read more: Regulators open probe into Tesla following Model S fires)

"There is definitely not going to be a recall," Musk said last Tuesday. "There is no reason for a recall. ... The perception is, if you read the headlines, that Teslas have a greater propensity to catch fire than other cars, and actually nothing can be further from the truth."

Elon Musk defends Tesla
Elon Musk defends Tesla

To recall or not

Despite Musk's declarations, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will make the recall determination.

The NHTSA, along with engineers and executives from Tesla and perhaps outside experts, will study the two Model S battery fires. Based on that information, NHTSA will decide if grounds exist for a recall and and on a specific process to address the problem.

(Read more: Tesla's Musk: Stock's high price was a distraction, seems a better deal now)

If the agency goes for a recall, it tells the automaker, which 99 percent of the time agrees to issue one.

If the automaker disagrees, NHTSA could sue to force the issue, but that rarely happens.

Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book said whether Tesla Model S sales will suffer because of these incidents comes down to what the investigation finds.

(Read more: Yet another Model S fire puts heat on Tesla)

"Is there an inherent design flaw in the Tesla's battery pack that makes it more prone to fires compared to other electric cars? That's what NHTSA will be determining," he said.

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

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