A Tesla logo in New York, the US, April 29 2016. Picture: REUTERS/LUCAS JACKSON
A Tesla logo in New York, the US, April 29 2016. Picture: REUTERS/LUCAS JACKSON

Shanghai — US electric vehicle (EV) maker Tesla says it has sent a team to investigate a video on Chinese social media which shows a parked Tesla Model S car exploding, the latest in a string of fire incidents involving Tesla’s cars.

The video, time-stamped Sunday evening and widely shared on China’s Twitter-like Weibo, shows the parked EV emitting smoke and bursting into flames. A video purportedly of the aftermath shows a line of three cars destroyed.

Reuters was not immediately able to verify the origins of the videos, which Weibo users said were taken in Shanghai. The cause of the explosion could not be ascertained from the videos.

“We immediately sent a team onsite and we’re supporting local authorities to establish the facts. From what we know now, no one was harmed,” Tesla said on Monday.

There have been at least 14 instances of Tesla cars catching fire since 2013, with the majority occurring after a crash.

The carmaker has said its EVs are about 10 times less likely to experience a fire than petrol-powered cars, based on its fleet of over 500,000 vehicles which have driven more than 10- billion kilometres. It did not specify whether the statistic referred to normal use or involving accidents.

The latest incident comes as Tesla tries to push sales in China, where its prices were affected by tit-for-tat tariffs imposed during Sino-US trade tensions in 2018.

The carmaker imports all the cars it sells in China, but is building a factory in Shanghai that will initially make its Model 3 and help reduce the effect of a trade war.

In March, Tesla was also on the receiving end of a labelling mix-up at Shanghai customs that led to a temporary suspension of clearance for a batch of Model 3 cars.

Analysts said the latest fire incident was likely to increase attention on the safety of EVs but was unlikely to have a major impact on Tesla’s sales or reputation in China while the cause was being investigated.

“Tesla had fire incidents before, but they didn’t have a big impact on its reputation in China,” said analyst Alan Kang at LMC Automotive. “Since its consumer base is not particularly conservative, and China is pushing the electric vehicle market, if this incident is just accidental, it will not have a big impact on Tesla,” he said.

“Tesla self-ignites” was one of the most popular hashtags on Weibo on Monday, racking up over 20-million clicks. Some users urged the carmaker to find the cause quickly, whereas others speculated over the impact to the value of Tesla cars on the road. Still more found humour in the situation.

“One lesson I learnt from the Shanghai self-exploding Tesla: don’t park your car next to a Tesla,” said one commentator.

In a separate, unrelated incident, Tesla’s rival in China, Nio, said in a social media post that an ES8 electric sport utility vehicle caught fire on Monday in a Nio service centre in the central city of Xian while under repair.

“Nio has launched an investigation to determine the cause of the fire,” Nio said, adding no one was harmed due to the incident.

Reuters