There are times when the Tesla news beat comes up with strange stories. Over the years, I’ve covered a number of these, from EV charging stalls being filled with uncooked ground meat to strange attacks on Teslas just because of hatred towards Elon Musk. Even among these, however, the recent “battery fire” demonstration from AXA Insurance is something else — just for how ridiculous it is.
The premise of AXA Insurance’s test was simple — EV batteries could catch fire in the event of a crash. As noted in my colleague Johnna Crider’s earlier piece, AXA accomplished this by removing the battery in a Tesla Model S sedan and fitting the vehicle with pyrotechnics. This way, the demonstration was “safe” and AXA could be ensured that a “battery fire” would indeed happen.
The best thing about this whole situation was that AXA flat-out admitted to this. “For safety reasons, it was not possible to ignite a real battery fire at an event with around 500 people, which is why a fire with pyrotechnics was staged,” the insurance provider explained.
A video of the demonstration has spread online, and without the proper context behind the test, viewers could easily be fooled into thinking that Teslas easily catch fire. In the video, one could see a yellow Model S sedan being launched into a ramp, flipping over, landing on its roof, and bursting into flame.
What is interesting in the whole situation was that without the shenanigans pulled by AXA — like removing the battery and loading the car with pyrotechnics — it would have been pretty challenging to demonstrate how a Tesla bursts into flame. Tesla has noted in its 2021 Impact Report that fire incidents are 11x lower for its vehicles than the average in the United States.
Had AXA actually launched a Tesla Model S with a battery pack, there was a pretty good chance that no fire would have happened. Apart from this, the Model S’ battery pack gives the vehicle a very low center of gravity, so flipping the car would have been a challenge in itself too. Simply put, the Model S sedan could have embarrassed AXA by either refusing to flip or catch fire if it actually had its battery equipped.
Hence the pyrotechnics.
One could assume that AXA Insurance knew exactly what it was doing. AXA is a popular insurance provider that covers Teslas, after all, so it seems safe to assume that the company is aware of how rare battery fires really are. AXA claims that it wanted to show how thermal runways can cause fires in an EV, but it ended up demonstrating a fire that is nothing close to a thermal runway in the process.
This all seems extremely careless for the insurance provider. Tesla, after all, is in the process of forming an assertive legal team designed to protect the company from unfair, damaging efforts. A staged battery fire in a Model S without a battery definitely misrepresents the safety of EVs as a whole, so Tesla may very well have some grounds to file legal action against the insurance provider. And that, in a way, would be just as fun to watch as AXA’s staged Model S “battery fire” video.
In any case, here is a video of AXA’s “battery fire” demonstration using a Tesla Model S without a battery.
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