U.S. Decides Not to Open Formal Probe of Tesla Battery Fires

Tesla symbol on vehicle
FILE - In this Feb. 2, 2020, file photo, the company logo appears on an unsold 2020 Model X at a Tesla dealership in Littleton, Colo. The U.S. government’s auto safety agency has rejected a request to investigate unintended acceleration in Tesla electric vehicles, saying the acceleration was caused by drivers pushing the wrong pedal. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

DETROIT (AP) — U.S. automobile safety regulators have denied a petition seeking an investigation into Tesla software updates, saying it’s unlikely a probe would find a safety defect.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Monday denied the 2019 petition, which alleged that over-the-internet software updates cut battery range in response to battery fires across the globe.

The agency said in documents posted in the Federal Register that it found a pattern of fires in China after the vehicles were charged up at Supercharger fast-charging stations. But no similar fires were identified in the U.S.

Three non-crash fires outside of China that were cited in the petition either did not start in the battery or didn’t happen after the batteries were charged quickly, the agency said. Two of those were in the U.S.

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The agency said that it won’t open a formal investigation into the fires and the software update.

“The available data indicate that noncrash battery fires in Tesla vehicles are rare events,” NHTSA wrote. “It is unlikely that an order concerning the notification and remedy of a safety-related defect would be issued due to any investigation opened as a result of granting this petition.”

NHTSA said it looked into data from the petition and from Tesla, and it examined field data from noncrash fires. It also reviewed software updates to the battery management system released by Tesla from May of 2019 to present.

The inquiry covered about 255,000 Tesla Model S and X vehicles from the 2012 through 2019 model years.

In the petition from September of 2019, Irvine, California, lawyer Edward Chen wrote that he represents a number of people who own Teslas and experienced significant range loss after software updates. The updates, he wrote, were “alleged to be issued by Tesla in response to the alarming number of car fires that have occurred worldwide.”

Chen wrote that he represents pa plaintiff in a federal class action lawsuit against Tesla filed in Northern California.

Messages were left Monday morning seeking comment from Chen.

NHTSA wrote in documents closing the defect petition inquiry that it found 59 complaints from Tesla owners alleging loss of range or charging capability.

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