I’m not going to pretend that I’m not profoundly skeptical of Tesla whenever they make a marketing claim, because its CEO tends to be a prickly guy and they tend to have an unusually rosy view of their product even for people who have to sell it. That said, Tesla makes great cars, and now a dumb rumor is spreading that might make life hard for the company.
Essentially, a video of a Model S on fire is currently dinging the company’s stock price. If this sounds dumb, that’s because it is; while Tesla has made many claims about the Model S, they’ve never claimed that it’s fireproof. To explain why a burning Tesla Model S is more than a YouTube curiosity, we need to talk about the Chevy Volt, and some people’s complete inability to think independently and be skeptical.
Essentially, politicians hated the Chevy Volt because you can get a tax break and they think it was made of bailout money or something. So for a while, the media, specifically Fox News, was playing up the rumor that the Chevy Volt spontaneously caught on fire after three of them did so. It was the perfect meme for a certain type of person; government incompetence leads to public risk.
One teeny, tiny problem: It was a total crock. The National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration found nothing wrong with the Volt whatsoever. In fact, vehicle fires are pretty common; there were an average of 194,000 of them between 2008 and 2010. But the lie was so heavily propagated that there are a lot of people who accept it at face value.
What Really Happened
According to Tesla, the driver hit “a large metal object” in the road, and was advised by the car to pull over. There was nobody in the vehicle, and the fire never reached the passenger compartment. The driver’s out a Tesla, obviously, but it was basically your standard vehicle fire.
Tesla’s stock price will recover. But it’s an important reminder that we may have computers in our pockets and jetpacks coming to our garages, but human stupidity is still as powerful as ever.
Dan Seitz is an obsessive nerd living in New England. He lives in the Boston area with a fiancee, a dog, a cat, and far too many objects with processors.