According to the NFPA in 2010 there were some 184,500 vehicle fires leading to some 285 deaths and 1440 injuries or one fire per 1,312 registered vehicles which is much worse then Tesla with a record so far of 1 in 20,000. However to your point that the Tesla Model S is a new vehicle and has not accumulated nearly as many miles on average then the overall US average, based on the number of miles driven Tesla does not fare as well. Tesla has a fleet total mileage to date of about 13 million miles and the NFPA stat works out to about 1 fire in 17 million miles driven for 2010. However one should note that the Chevy Volt with a LIB on board has a total fleet mileage of over 300,000,000 miles and no fires that I am aware of. This is much better then the ICE average and would suggest that LIB's at least in their early life in EVs are quite safe.
It appears that the 13 million miles for Tesla is an old number and the Design News article reports a current number of 83 million miles driven which would make the occurrence rate for fires in the Tesla Model S much less then the ICE average in 2010.
There are so many failures modes a combustion engine car would catch fire as well. At least from what I have witnessed so many times on the side of the road. So let's not jump the gun too quick on this event. No doubt this new technology needs to be made equally safe to all road hazards like this metal object that impacted the bottom. I am sure there are reasonnable qualification requirements to be met by all manufacturers in order to get a car certification, includingTesla. Let's see what will the final report reveal.
Yes, but EV manufacturers benefit from the previous century of experience with automobiles and do not start from scratch as did ICE manufacturers. I expect that to be an advantage for EV manufacturers, particularly for safety issues.
Over 40+ years of driving I can recall seeing quite a few vehicle fires, but, of these, the most common are associated with semi-trailer rear axles. These are caused by brake failures (dragging shoes, broken air lines, etc.) igniting the bearing grease then, in some cases, the tires and, in turn, the trailer and its load. Should be go chicken little over semi trailer brakes?
The problems with lthium-ion batteries can be fixed, just as the problems with gas tank fires in early gas powered vehicles were fixed. Yes, they happen, but they are rare and the causes are readily traced.
The primary issue is a lot of energy in a small space - gas tank, battery, nuclear power plants, coal piles. Do something wrong and it will burn/go critical/whatever.
We can't be sure NOTHING will go wrong - all we can do is reduce the likelyhood to an acceptable level commensurate with the potential damage from the fire - a fuel tank fire has to be isolated from the passengers long enough for them to exit the vehicle. I would say the Tesla design, at this stage, is adequate to protect the passengers. On the other hand, 4" of armor plate around the battery would protect the battery but it would make the product useless for its intended purpose. What's 'good enough?'
all we can do is reduce the likelyhood to an acceptable level commensurate with the potential damage from the fire - a fuel tank fire has to be isolated from the passengers long enough for them to exit the vehicle. I would say the Tesla design, at this stage, is adequate to protect the passengers.