New Tesla model caught fire while the driver was behind the wheel, says fire chief

A 2021 Tesla Model S Plaid sedan caught fire Tuesday night in Haverford, Pennsylvania, while the owner was at the wheel, according to Charles McGarvey, chief fire officer for the Lower Merion Township Fire Department.

Tesla began deliveries of the Model S Plaid, a new high-performance version of its flagship electric sedan, in June, after CEO Elon Musk had said on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast that they would begin in February.

Musk explained in April that development involved “more challenges than expected” and added, “it took quite a bit of development to ensure that the battery of the new S and X is safe.”

The car owner’s attorneys told CNBC that he noticed smoke coming from the back of his 2021 Model S Plaid and tried to unlock and open the doors but had to force his way out of the vehicle, as the locks seemed to malfunction. After he left the car, it began to move on its own and flames engulfed it.

The owner, whose identity has not been disclosed, is being represented by Mark Geragos of Geragos & Geragos in Los Angeles, and Jason Setchen of Athlete Defender in Miami.

Two crews of firefighters worked on the scene for just over 3 hours dealing with the emergency, McGarvey told CNBC.

As NBC News recently reported, electric vehicle battery fires can take upwards of 25,000 gallons of water to be fully extinguished. By comparison, a typical car fire involving an internal combustion engine can be put out with around 300 gallons of water.

Firefighters removed the 2021 Tesla Model S Plaid to a complex to safely store it overnight, McGarvey said. The owner since had the car removed from that facility, McGarvey said, and will have the vehicle investigated independently to try to determine the cause of the fire. McGarvey said his teams had been in touch with Tesla and should release more information via public records soon.

A spokesperson for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told CNBC it is aware of the Tesla vehicle fire in Pennsylvania and is in touch with relevant agencies and the manufacturer to gather more information about the incident. “If data or investigations show a defect or an inherent risk to safety exists, NHTSA will take action as appropriate to protect the public,” the spokesperson said.

Another federal vehicle safety watchdog, the National Transportation Safety Board, is not conducting an investigation, it told CNBC.

Tesla is expected to disclose how many vehicles it produced and delivered last quarter in coming days. It has not yet said how many new Model S or Model S Plaid cars it has delivered to customers.

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