The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Tesla investigates Model S explosion in Shanghai

Tesla is investigating video footage that appears to show smoke billowing from a Tesla Model S just moments before it exploded in a Shanghai car park.

The blast was captured in a widely shared video on Chinese media, prompting the electric carmaker to launch its own inquiry. “We immediately sent a team on-site and we’re supporting local authorities to establish the facts,” the company said in a statement.

How Elon Musk and Tesla challenge the auto industry

Sunday’s incident is the latest involving a Tesla catching fire. In June, a Model S burst into flames while driving in Los Angeles. The driver’s wife posted a video of the car with fire and smoke coming from underneath it, CNN reported. “This is what happened to my husband and his car today,” she wrote. “No accident, out of the blue, in traffic on Santa Monica Blvd. Thank you to the kind couple who flagged him down and told him to pull over."

In February, a Tesla driver in South Florida was killed after the vehicle swerved through traffic, hit a median and trees, then burst into flames. According to the Sun-Sentinel, the car’s battery reignited at least three times while the car was in the impound lot.

A separate wreck in South Florida last year led the family of one passenger to sue Tesla on allegations the car’s battery pack is defective. According to the law firm representing the family, there have been at least a dozen cases of Tesla Model S batteries catching fire after a collision or while stationary, in recent years. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the fatal 2018 crash, as well as others involving the Palo Alto, Calif.-based carmaker.

Tesla, which has more than 500,000 vehicles on the road, maintains that its cars are 10 times less likely to catch fire than gasoline-powered ones. But experts say that battery fires can be harder to extinguish, because heat tends to build up in the lithium-ion battery systems.

Tesla gears up for fully self-driving cars amid skepticism

Sunday’s incident comes at a sensitive time for the company. Daniel Ives, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, said in a note to clients Monday that he is expecting a “train wreck quarter” when Tesla reports first-quarter earnings on Wednesday because of its weak delivery numbers and cost trajectory.

Earlier this month, Tesla shares dropped more than 8 percent after the company announced lower-than-expected vehicle deliveries. Ives said the stock continues to remain under pressure as investors worry that Tesla’s lackluster performance will extend into the second half of the year.

On Monday, shares were down more than 3 percent in late-afternoon trading.

In January, Tesla reported its first back-to-back profitable quarter and said annual sales had surged more than 90 percent. But fourth-quarter profits were lower than expected and Tesla lost $1 billion for all of 2018, highlighting lingering criticism about its long-term ambitions in an increasingly competitive market.

Meanwhile, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been at the center of a legal battle with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, after he tweeted last year that he had secured funding to take the company private. The SEC sued Musk, accusing him of lying to investors about the effort. The parties eventually settled, but the agency recently claimed that Musk violated the agreement by continuing to tweet about the company’s finances without getting approval from the board, a condition of the settlement.

The episode underscores what some Tesla investors say is Musk’s impulsiveness and irresponsible leadership, which could provoke serious consequences for a company already facing doubts over demand, rising debt and stiff competition.

Last week, Tesla and the SEC asked a federal judge to give them one more week to resolve the dispute.

Musk met with investors Monday afternoon at the company’s headquarters to unveil his vision for a self-driving future. He was expected to share the company’s latest developments in autonomous technology and demonstrate what the company describes as “full self-driving” features during the event called, “Tesla Autonomy Day.” A live-stream of the event began at 2 p.m.

Tesla’s profits disappoint, renewing concerns about growth