NHTSA to Investigate Tesla Fires as Battery Facts Remain Elusive

Tesla fireAfter three recent fires, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk said he asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to investigate its Model S.

NHTSA said no he didn’t.

Tesla has been saying it received the highest safety rating in the U.S., a “new combined record of 5.4 stars.”

NHTSA says there’s no such thing.

Musk said he expects the investigation will clear Tesla after incidents in which metal objects struck the underside where the Model S battery is located.

NHTSA says we’ll see, and a decision whether there should be a recall will likely take months. Maybe a lie detector test needs to be part of the study.

Musk thought he had averted scrutiny after the first fire in Washington state last month, when NHTSA declined to investigate the cause. Then another fire followed a collision in Mexico, and another blaze ignited in Tennessee a couple weeks …

Problems Pile up for Taxpayer-Subsidized Tesla

Tesla Tenn fireFires, faulty drive units, financial losses and stock price deflation marked Tesla Motors news in a week that seemed as bad as the last couple of years were good.

Fortunately for CEO Elon Musk and his support staff he’s mastered the art of celebri-preneur showmanship that he’s built enough standing with the media to endure a really bad week. The multi-billionaire who’s dazzled with innovation at Paypal, SpaceX and SolarCity will be permitted his stumbles because of his track record and his self-assurance. Henrik Fisker, whose taxpayer-backed luxury electric auto company didn’t get nearly the same favor, must be jealous.

But even Fisker Automotive didn’t suffer three vehicle fires in the space of six weeks, like Tesla’s Model S just did. The latest occurred Wednesday afternoon near Nashville.  The Tennessee Highway Patrol told Associated Press that the car’s driver ran over a tow hitch on Interstate 24. …

New Tesla Fires, Old Volt Ones Explained, Not Absolved

Tesla fireTesla’s once-Teflon Tony Stark Elon Musk, the adored Paypal/SpaceX/electric-car innovator who’s been showered with unmitigated media praise and highly inflated stock values, has another lithium ion battery fire to explain.

This one happened after a Model S crash in Mexico. The last one happened less than a month ago in Kent, Wash. Since then Tesla’s share price has fallen from $193.90 on Sept. 30 to $160.58 this afternoon. The irrational exuberance that made the electric automaker the darling of Wall Street has now become merely excitable, although still unjustifiably so. Even Musk himself told Bloomberg last week, “The stock price that we have is more than we have any right to deserve.”

While the fanboy fave exhibited a measure of humility about Tesla’s stock market prestige, the two fires have not moved the needle in that respect. The official stance the company took in both cases …

Technical Glitches and Payments for Down Time Still Nag Boeing’s Dreamliner

Boeing 787 DreamlinerAnother fire, another mysterious technical glitch, and happy-go-lucky Boeing skips along enjoying strong sales, revenues and profits, despite the shadow of uncertainty that hangs over the lithium battery-charged Dreamliner.

The wide-bodied 787, following two fires on Japanese airliners in January that grounded them for months, experienced another blaze on July 12 at Heathrow Airport in London. This time the victim was Boeing customer Ethiopian Airlines, whose Dreamliner had a hole burned through the roof of the fuselage in front of the tail. The cause was attributed to an Emergency Locator Transmitter manufactured by Honeywell International, which contains a lithium manganese-dioxide battery – more about that later.

But the monster-sized lithium ion batteries that caused the January fires were cleared. Still, the Dreamliner has not been without its incidents this summer, which were spelled out earlier this week by travel writer Peter Greenberg. And another issue lingers from the …

Dreamliner Flies, But Doubts Persist About Boeing’s Batteries

battery photoNow that Boeing has placed most of its 787s back into service, including those in United Airlines’ fleet, executives with both corporations are putting a happy face on the expensive hardship that was caused by the four-month grounding of the planes due to fire hazard risks.

United reinstated the so-called Dreamliners on May 20, when United CEO Jeff Smisek and Boeing CEO Jim McNerney hopped a flight from Houston to Chicago to show the troubles with the plane’s lithium ion batteries were behind them.

“I’ll tell you, Jim,” said Smisek, as recounted by the Associated Press, “it was a fairly expensive piece of sculpture to have on the ground, so we’re really delighted to have it up and flying.”

That’s not to say the Dreamliners are fixed. As NLPC reported last month, Boeing’s engineers don’t know what caused the fires in the first place, thus they can’t be …

Boeing: Cause of Dreamliner Fires ‘Almost Doesn’t Matter’

battery photo“Attention ladies and gentlemen, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner will depart shortly – any potential fires caused by our lithium ion batteries will now be contained within the aircraft. Please line up at the gate for imminent boarding!”

Are you ready?

In case you missed it the Federal Aviation Administration, by publishing an Airworthiness Directive in the Federal Register last week, opened the door for the troubled “green” aircraft to return to service in the coming months. The document lays out the specifications required for Boeing to get the extremely costly project moving again, if the changes are implemented and FAA inspectors sign off.

But don’t call it a “fix,” because engineers don’t know what caused the fires in the first place. Boeing’s top engineer Michael Sinnett says the new configuration is designed to prevent a fire (the old one wasn’t??), according to the Associated Press, but even if …

No April Fools: Obama’s Green Energy Stimulus is Officially a Joke

Three Stooges photoPresident Obama’s alternative energy “stimulus,” administered through his Department of Energy by previous Secretary Steven Chu, had already become a joke because of the failures and foibles of so many recipients of Recovery Act funds. But now – as though officially commemorating the absurdity of this historically bad U.S. government program – one of its bankrupt beneficiaries has changed its name from one of simplicity to one of mockery.

Electric vehicle battery maker A123 Systems has changed its name to B456 Systems. Incorporated.

Reporting the development, headline writers across the nation rubbed their eyes, double-checked the wire information, and then – especially realizing how close they were to April Fool’s Day – had to add extra assurance to the breaking news.

For the Boston Herald, where A123 was headquartered near MIT, it was this:

A123 Systems changes name to B456 (seriously)

The Milwaukee

Tesla CEO Elon Musk Fights Perceptions as Stock Drops

Elon MuskTaxpayer-supported Tesla, recipient of a $465 million stimulus loan guarantee to produce yet another electric toy car (the Model S) for rich people, reported its 4th quarter earnings last week. The word from billionaire CEO Elon Musk (Flickr photo: Jurvetson) was, “we’ll do better next quarter – promise.”

That’s a paraphrase, but nonetheless Tesla’s announcement fell short of most Wall Street analysts’ expectations. The company lost $90 million for the quarter as it ramped up production to fill pre-orders, paying workers to put in an average of 68 hours per week in December. On Thursday the company suffered the biggest one-day drop in its stock price – tumbling nearly 10 percent – in more than a year. Shares fell to $35.16 before recovering slightly on Friday, but were at $34.38 for Tuesday morning’s opening.

Unlike its counterpart Fisker, Musk and Tesla have enjoyed comparatively better …

Boeing Woes Balloon as Battery Fix Remains a Mystery

Boeing 787 DreamlinerWould you be willing to fly on a newly developed jumbo airliner with battery technology that has been known to cause fires, whose exact cause is still unknown, but whose manufacturer has claimed to find a temporary “fix” that would allegedly contain –but not prevent – future flaming flights?

Boeing bets you would. Airbus bets you wouldn’t.

On Sunday the Seattle Times reported that Boeing might propose a plan as early as this week to get the troubled Dreamliner airborne again, after two incidents involving fires with the jet’s sizable lithium ion battery packs shut down all 50 of the units now in service. The rumored remedy doesn’t appear to be an actual repair of the volatile battery itself, but instead “includes a heavy-duty titanium or steel containment box around the battery cells” and high-pressure tubes to vent dangerous gases outside the fuselage in case of what engineers call “thermal …

Inspector General Confirms Fun & Games at LG Chem

LGChem logoThe employees of battery maker LG Chem still haven’t found anything to do worthy of their pay since they were caught playing games and watching videos four months ago, and now the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Energy has embarrassed the company into returning some – but not much – of the $142 million (out of a $151 million grant) in taxpayer money they took.

Gregory Friedman released his report – which was based on an inquiry spurred by the original media stories in the fall about the mostly idle workers in Holland, Mich. – last week. Turns out the reports about workers on-the-clock playing Texas Hold ‘Em and video games, doing Sudoku and crossword puzzles, and volunteering at nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity, were not exaggerations.

In the words of the inspector, “We confirmed the allegations.” The work that was supposed to be done under DOE’s stimulus