Elon Musk has branded concerns that his Tesla Model S electric car is prone to catching fire as 'outrageous', following three high profile incidents where the battery pack has caught fire.
The billionaire entrepreneur wrote on the Tesla website to reassure potential customers that his cars are safe, and dismissed claims otherwise are "outrageous," adding: "You are more likely to be struck by lightning in your lifetime than experience even a non-injurious fire in a Tesla."
Musk's lengthy post, which explains how the three Model S crashes - resulting in fires from the battery pack - did not injure any occupants, comes as the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced a preliminary evaluation of the incidents and safety of Tesla cars.
The probe, which was requested by Musk, will look into the risk of fire from objects striking the underneath of the car, where its battery is located, and could result in a recall of all 13,000 Model Ss sold to date.
In a bid to decrease the likelihood of an object hitting the underneath of the car, Musk announced an over-the-air software update has been issued to the Model S. The update raises the car's ride height slightly while driving at motorway speeds, while a further update due in January will give the driver direct control of the suspension ride height.
Writing in October about one of the recent Tesla fires, Musk explained how a piece of metal falling from another car had struck the underneath of a following Model S, punching a 3in hole in the 0.25in-thick armour plate protecting the car's battery pack, causing a fire.
Comparing Tesla's record of three fires and zero injuries or deaths, Musk claims there have been 250,000 conventional car fires since the Model S went into production last year, "resulting in over 400 deaths and approximately 1,200 serious injuries."
Musk added: "The media coverage of Model S fires vs gasoline fires is disproportionate by several orders of magnitude".
Musk and Tesla believe it is "highly unlikely" that the NHTSA's investigation will find any way to physically improve the car's safety with regard to fire damage. However, Musk added: "If something is discovered that would result in a material improvement in occupant fire safety, we will immediately apply that change to new cars and offer it as a free retrofit to all existing cars."
The entrepreneur claims that, given the three fires resulted in no injuries, the investigation "did not at first seem like a good use of NHTSA's time compared to the hundreds of gasoline fire deaths per year that warrant their attention."
But he claims there is "a larger issue at stake," in that the "false perception" of his car's safety cannot be allowed to linger, because that would "delay the advent of sustainable transport and increase the risk of global climate change, with potentially disastrous consequences worldwide."
Finally, in a move to further reinforce Musk's belief that the Model S is safe his company will cover fire damage under warranty, even if it is the result of driver error. "Unless a Model S owner actively tries to destroy the car, they are covered," Musk explained.
Having recently opened a retail store in the Westfield Shepherds Bush shopping centre in London, Tesla will begin selling right-hand-drive versions of the Model S in the UK from March; although prices are yet to be confirmed, it is expected to start at around £50,000.