Electric cars including Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA:US)’s Model S pose different risks than gasoline-powered models while being as safe overall, the top U.S. auto-safety regulator said.
“We believe they don’t pose any greater risks than gasoline-fueled vehicles,” David Friedman, deputy administrator of the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said in an interview today at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
“Do they pose different risks? Certainly,” he said.
Friedman’s agency is investigating two Model S fires in the U.S. that resulted from battery packs being punctured by road debris. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Jan. 10 that the company would replace adapters in the Model S, after at least a half-dozen reports appeared on a website for Tesla owners saying that wall plugs had heated, at some point to smoking or melting, as the cars were being recharged in garages.
The replacement effort will be handled as a recall, though customers don’t have to take their vehicles to a service center.
A NHTSA team that includes engineers and people who study consumer behavior is looking at electric cars, said Friedman, who is leading the agency after the departure of former leader David Strickland.
“People aren’t used to the new challenges that electric vehicles pose,” he said. “We’re taking this issue seriously. We want to make sure electric vehicles are safe.”
NHTSA has an interest in seeing electric cars gain consumer acceptance, as part of its mission is to increase average fuel economy of U.S. vehicles, he said.
Friedman said Musk and his team are doing a good job responding to regulators’ requests, after a public spat between company executives and Strickland over who initiated the Model S investigation.
“The other dynamics aren’t important,” he said.
Musk and other Tesla executives today took issue with the adapter replacement and a related software update, made in December, being labeled a recall.
“NHTSA may sometimes call this a recall,” Jerome Guillen, vice president of worldwide sales and service, told reporters in Detroit today. “We call it modern technology.”
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