The nightmare for Tesla started when some idiot stole a brand-new Tesla S Friday night from a dealership in western Los Angeles. Someone at the dealership noticed and called the police, which soon arrived at the scene. It turned into a high-speed chase that ended in a crash that involved four other cars and a lamppost, and left six people injured.
The nightmare for Tesla didn’t actually start with the theft and the crash. These things happen. Humans do stupid things. The nightmare started when the details emerged as to what happened to the Tesla.
The car split in two, the driver was ejected (though he was initially believed to be dead, he survived somehow), and a blaze broke out (KTLA):
Video from the scene showed the Tesla cut in half, and a portion of the vehicle appeared to have crashed into a building at the corner of the street. The other half of the vehicle remained in the roadway and caught fire.
Tesla now has one heck of a problem on its hands. And not just a publicity issue. Most true believers don’t actually pay attention, or want to pay attention, to any contrary data. But there aren’t enough true believers out there to sell more than the 2,500 or so vehicles that Tesla sells a month worldwide.
Those 30,000 Teslas this year won’t even amount to a rounding error in the 72.23 million total passenger vehicles expected to be sold in 2014. That’s a market share of 0.0042%. You can always find a few buyers if you have a cool, expensive car. But in terms of volume, you’re not even a blip in the vast industry.
Now Tesla has to figure out some things, among them:
- Why did their lovely car that has a 5-star rating for crashworthiness from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration erupt into that terrific fire? In March, after a series of Tesla fires, engineers had already slapped on a titanium plate to strengthen the casing that is supposed to protect the lithium-ion battery.
- What structural issue does the car have to just break in two like this?
Tesla is eager to get the shrapnel of what’s left over from the car – “We absolutely want to have a look to understand what happened,” spokesman Simon Sproule told Bloomberg. Clearly, they’re going to burn some midnight oil, trying to figure this out, but given how few Teslas have been sold so far, there isn’t a lot of good data out there.
Modern cars are supposed to crumple and bend and get twisted and absorb energy to protect the passengers. Cars aren’t supposed to burst into flames and break in two when they hit something. This sort of stuff just isn’t supposed to happen to modern cars.
Both issues could be major design problems that would require not a simple recall – adding another titanium plate somewhere, for example – but a chassis redesign.
Today, the first day of trading since this fiasco happened, TSLA dropped only 2.9%, in sympathy with the rest of the market rather than caused by the specific issues. The company still has a market value of over $28 billion, so almost $1 million for each car it might sell this year. And so it’s still worth, based on what momentum traders do with their buy and sell orders, nearly half as much as GM, though on a worldwide basis, Tesla sells almost no cars compared to GM – and one of those cars just broke in two.