A Tesla Model S caught fire yesterday after a crash, sending shares tumbling and prompting lots of speculation about the possible role of the car's lithium ion battery.
Tesla will certainly seek to find out what happened, but because of the government shutdown, we may never get an answer from an independent party.
As Karl Brauer, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, pointed out, "The unfortunate aspect of this incident relates to the government shutdown, which will hamper an investigation to learn exactly what happened and how to prevent it going forward.”
That kind of inquiry would be carried out by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which conducts Special Crash Investigations into real-world incidents around the country.
For example, fires in the electric Chevy Volt prompted the NHTSA to investigate the car's crash-related fire risk in 2012. It took that "unusual step," it said, partly because of "the innovative nature of this emerging technology."
(For the record, it concluded, "The NHTSA does not believe that Chevy Volts or other electric vehicles pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered vehicles.")
The Tesla Model S is another innovative car, so it's not a stretch to say the NHTSA would be interested in what happened this week.
But the NHTSA is a government agency. And the government is shut down.
We contacted the agency to ask if it would investigate the Tesla fire, and whether the shutdown would affect its ability to do so. Here's what a spokesperson told us:
"During the government shutdown some key agency functions have been suspended, including Vehicle Safety. As a result, NHTSA is unable to respond to your request at this time. Please contact the agency again when services in this area have resumed."
It looks like they won't be able to tell us what happened.
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