back to article Tesla crash investigation causes dip in 'leccycar firm's share price

Investigators are looking into the cause of a fatal Tesla Model X crash and subsequent fire in California, the American National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has reportedly said. The agency told Reuters that it had opened an investigation into the crash, which took place last week. Local reports indicated that the road …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Another Uber!

    I notice the news articles I have been reading have been characterizing Tesla as a self driving car - not providing much in the way of facts, and getting those wrong.

    1. Nate Amsden Silver badge

      Re: Another Uber!

      I think a lot of it is legacy stuff from what appeared to be serious claims by Tesla that they were self driving, at least in statements that I thought I read from Musk etc at the time. This was before the accident with the semi(and I believe before Tesla and that company in Israel parted ways), and Telsa has since walked back a lot(all?) of those statements and said said they were always clear to the buyers that it wasn't self driving.

      But as someone on the sidelines I do distinctly remember a very big change in Tesla/Musk's description as to what their technology is capable of.

      Not surprising at all that not everyone got the message yet. Tesla doesn't do itself any favors by seemingly constantly touting that their technology on shipping cars is level 5 or whatever capable (when the software is ready), just adds to the confusion.

  2. John Robson Silver badge

    Clickbait headlines... (elsewhere)

    By the sound of the witnesses it wasn't a fiery crash, but a crash which resulted in a fire - a fire slow enough that everyone left the vehicle.

    Be interesting to know what the cause was, and is particularly interesting to know that that stretch of road is autopiloted 200 times a day...

    1. AdamT

      Re: Clickbait headlines... (elsewhere)

      also it looks pretty bad for "the authorities" if the claim that the crash barriers had been removed is correct.

      1. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

        Re: Clickbait headlines... (elsewhere)

        Doesn't look impressive for Tesla if their vehicle logs are not available because of the crash. Protecting a solid state storage drive isn't that hard...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Clickbait headlines... (elsewhere)

          Don't know what the storage capacity of the solid state storage is, but having a second unit in a different part of the vehicle would seem to be an obvious solution.

        2. Steve Todd

          Re: Clickbait headlines... (elsewhere) @dodgy geezer

          Tesla are saying that they can’t retrieve the data yet (probably because their cellular link to the car is down), not that the storage media have been destroyed. There looks to have been a serious amount of damage to the car (partial front impact, with the concrete pushing as far back as the passenger cabin).

          As to the suggestion that the batteries be moved to the back of the car, other than it messing up the centre of gravity (the weight being low allows it to corner well) what happens if it is struck from behind? The damaged batteries didn’t explode like a petrol fire (nor should they) so it wasn’t a major issue.

        3. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: Clickbait headlines... (elsewhere)

          "Protecting a solid state storage drive isn't that hard..."

          No, but losing the mobile data connection to it, and not being able to physically access it until discussions with the authorities have taken place, doesn't seem unreasonable...

          1. jeffroimms

            Re: Clickbait headlines... (elsewhere)

            That and the simple fact that, the system has obviously been disconnected from the battery it no longer has power to be able to receive or transmit data... also the comms components maybe damaged preventing such communication once it is again powered... were all interested in the outcome however there isn't always a lone gunman on the grassy knoll and the simple things should be considered first... the basic economics of the situation will mean that the company will want that data out into the wider world to be able to distance itself from the UBER situation

      2. Eddy Ito Silver badge

        Re: Clickbait headlines... (elsewhere)

        From the video clip posted on twitter it looks like there was a gap in the barrier and it looks to have taken much of the nose of the car clean off. The fire isn't very impressive but it's hard to know if it was knocked down earlier. Here's the clip.

        https://twitter.com/NBCian/status/977406284260495360

      3. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

        Barriers

        I think Caltrans is trying to enforce a one car, one idiot, one barrier replacement ratio. The gore point used to have the usual water buckets but they were continuously being destroyed and replaced. You could say that there should be motorcycle cops there writing hundreds of tickets a day, but they'd get run over too.

        That section of road was my commute nightmare. When one highway slows down, drivers swerve into the other highway past the split and might not always have a place to merge in - two cars doing this at once will crash into each other. There are also cars trying to get around Toyota and Gbus drivers going 40 MPH in the fastest lane of 65 MPH zone (this is the carpool/fast lane exit). Many of those same Toyotas and Gbusses got into the fast Hwy 85 exit by driving diagonally across 5 lanes of traffic from a nearby onramp while going half the speed of traffic, rather than continuing in the normal Hwy 85 exit. Finally, a lot of people just don't pay attention to the mile of exit signs and half mile of exit striping.

        1. Stoneshop Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: Barriers

          I think Caltrans is trying to enforce a one car, one idiot, one barrier replacement ratio. The gore point used to have the usual water buckets but they were continuously being destroyed and replaced.

          They might want to consider a ramp going up to the height of the barrier plus some sort of plateau so that the car doesn't flop off the rather narrow barrier and block one of the lanes, with arrestor cables and maybe an overhead crane to pick up the wreck and get it over to the shoulder.

    2. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
      Pint

      local fire brigade was unsure if the car’s battery would explode

      "...the local fire brigade was unsure if the car’s battery would explode."

      Perhaps the First Responders should become more familiar with the internal construction of electric car battery packs, typically consisting of endless numbers of wee feisty little '18650' (18mm by 65mm) cells. In the future, the Tesla cells will soon be '2170' (21mm x 70mm).

      Any "explosions" would be an individual cell, and thus not all that big. They may be sequential.

      First Responders need to make themselves familiar with the OEMs' safety advice, that has been directed to them specifically, proactively.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: local fire brigade was unsure if the car’s battery would explode

        typically consisting of endless numbers of wee feisty little '18650' (18mm by 65mm) cells. In the future, the Tesla cells will soon be '2170' (21mm x 70mm)

        Off topic, but why? I'm sure there's a logic, but at face value there would seem to be a sizeable weight penalty of all those metal cans, and a volume penalty of stacking cylinders, not to mention the high aggregate cost.

        1. Stoneshop Silver badge

          Re: local fire brigade was unsure if the car’s battery would explode

          Off topic, but why? I'm sure there's a logic, but at face value there would seem to be a sizeable weight penalty of all those metal cans, and a volume penalty of stacking cylinders, not to mention the high aggregate cost.

          Ease of production seems to be the biggest factor. Cranking out 18650 cells is mature technology by now, and if you need a lot of packs able to hold a lot of energy, you can choose to go for a dedicated form factor that packs cells more densely, or just go with what's there, with maybe somewhat lossier packaging but lower startup costs. Never mind that cells do need individual packaging of some sort, packing cylindrical cells isn't very lossy with regards to total space. And maybe the space left between the cells is useful by way of possible ventilation and cooling (just a guess).

          And upping the size from 18650 to 21700 isn't a change that would require a radical change to the production and assembly processes.

          1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

            Re: Individual cells are safer?

            I would assume they are safer. You can manage them individually, or at least in blocks. I'd assume the tech/size is not factory limited, as Tesla is building new factories, so they could re-spec sizes there is it mattered.

            Smaller cells means if one goes bad, you dump that one cell off the grid, and the rest work fine. It means if one cell blows, yes it takes the others out, but it's 1 small blow out/thermal run away followed by a lot more small ones.

            One large, or a few large cells, and a small defect and the entire thing is out. A runaway/gas out and that is a LOT of energy in one go, and another one even if you have a few in the car instead of one big one.

            1000 little pins could kill you, but you'd get a big warning to get out of the way in the process.

        2. cambsukguy

          Re: local fire brigade was unsure if the car’s battery would explode

          Yes, there is a penalty, space, weight, etc.

          But, Tesla spent years and years perfecting the tech to improve the safety and the cooling system for the battery.

          The result is that they can charge the battery pack very quickly compared to others; the cooling system is used to maintain the pack at optimal charging temperature without it overheating.

          Along with the safety stuff they added to prevent explosion - which also allows high current flow I think - it would seem that they made the right decision.

          As people here know, a lithium cell fire/explosion with that much energy stored would be serious.

          If expectations are kept to a reasonable level, which has not always been the case, Tesla's design and implementation (of an electric vehicle - not an autonomous vehicle) is one of the best examples I have seen.

          If they do make the cheaper version and it comes to the UK, I might even consider 'wasting' my money on a new car.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: local fire brigade was unsure if the car’s battery would explode

        Have fun googling Battery Thermal Runaway

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: local fire brigade was unsure if the car’s battery would explode

          Have fun googling Battery Thermal Runaway

          I've participated in workshops with car makers, battery makers and HSE, I'm familiar with the risks. Including that if one cell experiences runaway, the surrounding ones tend to go up as well.

          We didn't get round to the choice of physical construction, otherwise I could have asked the people who know.

      3. Stoneshop Silver badge
        Flame

        Re: local fire brigade was unsure if the car’s battery would explode

        Perhaps the First Responders should become more familiar with the internal construction of electric car battery packs, typically consisting of endless numbers of wee feisty little '18650' (18mm by 65mm) cells. In the future, the Tesla cells will soon be '2170' (21mm x 70mm).

        The problem is there being up to several tens of kWh of energy in the pack; the actual construction matters less.

        Any "explosions" would be an individual cell, and thus not all that big. They may be sequential.

        They're not explosions. And if there's damage to the battery pack there will be multiple cells affected. If those start to heat up their neighbours will join in sooner or later, and the cumulative heating may well cause them to combust more or less at once. There's also the problem that you don't know if the cells' internal protection has done its job correctly; with at least one previous Tesla accident some cell packs were thrown clear of the car, and started burning out in the open.

        First Responders need to make themselves familiar with the OEMs' safety advice, that has been directed to them specifically, proactively.

        They do. At least over here. Just last week there was ample demonstration that turning across an approaching tram (never mind that a turn like that from the direction they came from is prohibited) is guaranteed to ruin your afternoon as well as your insurance no-claim rating. The arrival of a fire truck surprised us a bit, until we got a view of the side of the car that wasn't impaled on the Scharfenberg, showing it to be a Hyundai Ioniq. We didn't see all of what the firemen did, but they were clearly there to assess a possible fire risk before the tram was allowed to move back and the car towed.

        1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

          Re: local fire brigade was unsure if the car’s battery would explode

          There may be a lot of energy in that pack, but it's not as much as a tank of petrol.

          Firefighters are used to dealing with that and know what to do to keep it safe. Aren't there similar procedures for electric car batteries ?

  3. cs9

    I have the pleasure of sitting in this traffic everyday. This bit of road is unusual in that there is a left exit onto a separate freeway (bear in mind we drive on the correct side of the road here). The car drove full speed into the separator you can see here:

    https://www.google.com/maps/@37.4105466,-122.0748139,3a,75y,133.28h,75.47t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sacKIfW6A1Znw6opJ6GXEaA!2e0!7i16384!8i8192

    From this point of view it almost looks like just another lane until suddenly it's not. Either the driver foolishly tried to switch lanes at the last moment at full speed, or the autopilot got confused. Given the novelty of the left exit, the autopilot possibility cannot be discounted.

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Ah that one. I know it and I hate it :)

      In Europe it would have been the local highway authority liable because the separator is not hatched.

      I have had a close miss in the same place in the dark a few years ago. It is really badly done.

    2. nil0

      So death by lack of white paint. That's nasty - especially as there are comments saying that section of protective barrier was missing because of repeated accidents at that junction.

      Needs something like this (UK): https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.5481817,-2.5646672,3a,75y,264.91h,88.69t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sTKudFnVgYMSZ8EUuhfQuMQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

      Is the sudden barrier in a bit of plain tarmac a common US thing?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Is the sudden barrier in a bit of plain tarmac a common US thing?"

        Yes

      2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Needs something like this (UK):

        The picture does not describe the full story. The paint is actually specially designed to produce noise in most Eu countries. So in addition to visible you will hear it if you step onto the hatch at >30mph.

        Probably something too obvious for the great Californicating highways I guess. Let's use some AI instead (not).

        1. Peter2 Silver badge

          in addition to visible you will hear it if you step onto the hatch at >30mph

          As a British driver i'll chip in by twopence, which is that I have crossed that sort of paint once (a lorry pulled out to overtake without indicating or checking his mirrors) causing me to brake hard and then literially turn off the road to avoid getting rammed off.

          At speed, the noise was an impressively loud "BBZZZZZTTTT", and the vibration from it would wake a corpse. You certainly knew you were driving somewhere you shouldn't have been!

        2. Stoneshop Silver badge
          Headmaster

          The paint is actually specially designed to produce noise in most Eu countries.

          It's loud, but not that loud.

      3. jake Silver badge

        "Is the sudden barrier in a bit of plain tarmac a common US thing?"

        No. That's the only one I know of (I typically drive ~90K miles/year ... that's over 5 times "normal" for a guy, whatever that means).

        That said, the 101/85 interchange is a clusterfuck of the first order. But it's not so bad that it kills attentive drivers on a regular basis. "Drive" it for yourself, starting here:

        https://www.google.com/maps/@37.4112791,-122.076645,3a,75y,114.42h,90.58t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sFm_Oog8GmlvqYok5UrQECg!2e0!7i16384!8i8192

        Methinks the driver wasn't ... err ... driving. Which is kinda important, when you're behind the wheel.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "...or the autopilot got confused. Given the novelty..."

      The Autopilot can be confused by cross-traffic Tractor Trailers, so it has a low threshold of confusability. It's not mature enough to justify reaching for a complicated explanation or excuse.

      Prepare yourself for the Self-Driving Vehicle 'Great Disappointment' of 2018/2019.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "...or the autopilot got confused. Given the novelty..."

        Prepare yourself for the Self-Driving Vehicle 'Great Disappointment' of 2018/2019.

        That'll be as nothing compared to the decade long Great Disappointment of the Internet or Tat.

        1. Bob Wheeler
          Trollface

          Re: "...or the autopilot got confused. Given the novelty..."

          of the Year of the Linux Desktop.....

    4. LeahroyNake Bronze badge

      cross hatched

      That is not a great design. If it was cross hatched white it would be a much more obvious that you shouldn't be driving on it !

  4. Lee D Silver badge

    Whether or not the barrier is there... why did the car hit it? Even hitting it WITH the barrier there doesn't mean you escape being in a fatal accident.

    And the hazard warning is still there, quite visibly, only the day before. With a bonus cone, to boot.

    It makes the accident *more* severe but the accident shouldn't happen. Whether that's driver error or Autopilot, someone's not doing their job. But even to the point of taking in dashcam footage from witnesses and using it as "proof" seems a bit like misdirection when no car should be contacting any other solid object (except the road itself!). To do so at these speeds, no matter what barriers are there, is still potentially fatal, to the driver and others.

    And bringing out stats about how safe the vehicle is because so many other people drove past? That's like saying the Ford Mondeo is safe because millions of people use it every day. Sure, generally, the stats might be lower at the moment because they are just a probability. That can soon swing the other way as more data like this is added.

    The question is - if this WAS in "autopilot" mode (yeah, yeah, I know) then why did it crash? Because a reasonably-attentive human wouldn't have. If it wasn't, what about all their collision-avoidance junk? Did it go off? Did it detect anything? WOULD it have braked if it was in the right mode? Because they sell the car as heavily on collision-avoidance during normal driving. Which obviously failed. Even if the driver aimed at the thing.

    It seems to me that the laws of average are just playing catch-up to the real numbers, not that these things are inherently much safer.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It seems to me that the laws of average are just playing catch-up to the real numbers, not that these things are inherently much safer.

      US insurance studies indicate that the frequency of claims for the Tesla Model S is substantially higher than either peer group non electric cars, or for non-peer group electric vehicles. The costs of repairs are also much higher, but they don't separate out the "novelty cost premium" from the actual physical severity, so from what's in the public domain (on five minutes searching) I can't say anything further.

      And the "40% safer with Autopilot" claim by Musk has already been laughed out of court by US academics.

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Because a reasonably-attentive human wouldn't have.

      It's the "reasonalby-attentive" thing I have a problem with. Given the number of accidents at this point of the road, it appears to be "Darwin Award Winner maker". Is it a magnetic for just "not reasonably-attentive" drivers? Or is there a problem with the road design? I suspect the later one.

      1. jake Silver badge

        It's not so much a bad design as a compromise, given the extreme lack of square inches to build more road in that location. But it's not deadly, any more than Fixation Rock on Hwy35 (between Hwy9 and Page Mill Road) is deadly, despite a number of motorcyclists barrelling into it over the years. If you pay attention to the road and don't drive like a fucking idiot, it's not an issue.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Fixation Rock

          Coming up on the right:

          https://youtu.be/TthMG8qeKOo?t=855

          Folks misjudge the corner and stare their way into the rock, from either direction. I knew one guy who hit it once from each side; sadly he didn't survive it the second time. Helpful hint: Look in the direction you want the vehicle to go, muscle memory usually takes over. Works with horses, too.

          Now you know why skid-marks on freeways often point unerringly at immovable objects.

          1. Mark 85 Silver badge

            Re: Fixation Rock

            So, target fixation then?

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: Fixation Rock

              Exactly. It often is in such cases.

              "It's a poor craftsman who blames his tools."

              When you're in charge of a motor vehicle, drive! It's kind of important.

    3. Stoneshop Silver badge

      The question is - if this WAS in "autopilot" mode (yeah, yeah, I know) then why did it crash?

      Apparently it was. "Tesla says the 38-year-old driver, who died shortly afterwards, had activated Autopilot moments before the accident.

      But they did not say whether the system had detected the concrete barrier."

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "...then an approaching Mazda and Audi hit the Tesla."

    I can understand the Audi, what with being six inches behind the car in front.

    But the Mazda?

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: "...then an approaching Mazda and Audi hit the Tesla."

      The Mazda was avoiding the Subaru driver instagramming her 5 year old applying makeup before kindergarten.

  6. Nosher

    For the love of God, can El Reg's writers please stop putting an apostrophe in front of Leccy? Leccy is a complete, valid slang word - it's certainly not Eleccy, which is what the apostrophe implies (as a contraction, like 'Ello equals Hello).

    1. jake Silver badge

      It's called editorial druthers.

  7. Hans 1 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    softaware patch => recall ????

    No fan of software in vehicules .... but ...

    The NTSB has no powers to order a general recall of cars if its investigation uncovers a flaw in the Tesla Autopilot software.

    If there is ONE, yes ONE instance where a recall is not necessary, it is when the CONNECTED car's software needs a patch ... beyond funny ...

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Electric Car Production Futility

    The carbon foot and level of earth rape is far too high in producing these totally unnecessarily fast and heavy vehicles - we should be making tiny, light cars and trucks which run for hundreds of miles per biomass-carbon-neutral derived gallon, to save humanity and the planet from death.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Electric Car Production Futility

      So... my 2016 Nissan Leaf is a fast car?

      ROFL

      Seriously, the Model X is a huge lump of metal and stuff. Like the big BMW, Audi and Merc SUV's.

      But this is the USA we are talking about. There Bigger is Better and they hate small cars.

      Yes, smaller and lighter cars are needed. Also cheaper ones. The Tesla Model X is typically £75K and upwards. (if you doubt me go to https://www.autotrader.co.uk/cars/tesla/model-x)

      Expensive? you bet. Desirable? Not for me. I'm getting a Hyundai Kona EV at the end of the year.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Electric Car Production Futility

        "There Bigger is Better and they hate small cars."

        That's a mighty broad brush you paint with. pardner.

        1. Geoff Campbell

          Re: Electric Car Production Futility

          But quite justifiable on a statistical basis.

          GJC

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Electric Car Production Futility

      "The carbon foot and level of earth rape is far too high in producing these totally unnecessarily fast and heavy vehicles"

      That may well be true in the longer term, but you can't help but notice that the Tesla brand has brought electric cars to the notice of Joe Public more so than any of the other manufactures. It's also seemingly upped the game for the traditional manufactures who were, on the whole, pretty "meh!" over electric and hybrid for quite some time.

  9. Gene Cash Silver badge

    > NTSB has no powers to order a general recall

    No, but the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) most certainly will listen to them as a reason for a recall.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not a gap. There is a lane that splits off. There is a concrete barrier from the curb and driver's sides of the two lanes that converge at the spot. The crushable protection had previously been crushed, so the Tesla hit a solid block of steel backed by tons of concrete. Some are speculating the driver tried to switch between the continuing lane and the exit lane and chose the middle. Some have pointed out that many drivers make the same last moment switch, though they usually succeed; however the crushed protection device indicates that this is not always the case.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Still dealing with model S "autopilot" fatality lawsuits

    Tesla is facing serious uphill challenges with fatalities from use of "autopilot" in the model S, the model X crash in CA last week which may have been another "autopilot" fatality and many production issues on the model 3 that have limited their ability to even ship this model. As noted Tesla in burning through cash at an alarming rate. The real question is can Tesla sell enough vehicles fast enough to prevent bankruptcy with so many problems, mounting lawsuits and minimal revenue compared to expenses?

    1. Robert Heffernan

      Re: Still dealing with model S "autopilot" fatality lawsuits

      The solution is easy.. Use it "At Your Own Risk"

      There was a time when your actions were your own and the consequences were yours also. If you want to use autopilot and shit goes south then it's on you. There are plenty of warnings when you are using the system, you also are supposed to be watching the road and take over if the situation requires it. If you can't follow basic and prudent instructions then you need to not use the system.

      Lawsuits around Autopilot should be thrown out for the fact that to enable it you have to acknowledge the warnings, you get warned during use, and you are required to monitor the conditions during use. If you fail to follow these instructions then you should not have a leg to stand on in court.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Still dealing with model S "autopilot" fatality lawsuits

        During the meanwhile, Cadillac is pushing "Super Cruise".

        http://www.cadillac.com/world-of-cadillac/innovation/super-cruise

        Things are going to get much worse before they get better ... mark my words.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Still dealing with model S "autopilot" fatality lawsuits

        "Lawsuits around Autopilot should be thrown out for the fact that to enable it you have to acknowledge the warnings, you get warned during use, and you are required to monitor the conditions during use. If you fail to follow these instructions then you should not have a leg to stand on in court."

        Which, when you follow that reasoning to the logical conclusion, completely negates the need for the autopilot. If you have to pay that much attention and monitor it continuously, you might as well be driving yourself.

        Not that I am NOT disagreeing with you. I'm just pointing out that all the legal disclaimers that come with this sort of "autopilot" are an effective admission that it's not safe to use.

  12. Cynicalmark

    It doesn’t matter.......

    Whatever you engineer however impressive in itself, there will always be an incident involving some errors either with the method of use/response of automation or the unintended use/ intervention of the idiot using it.

    Writing software responses for real world situations is very difficult as assumed responses do not translate well into code. This may well be the result of conflict internally in the system due to the unusual junction off ramp. However, the other options are still on the table about road users and avoidance protection- it may be he was pushed off route. We will only know once the investigation is complete.

    No defence of TESLA but read some of the instructions that come with your purchases. The warnings do make you wonder how stupid some people really are.......

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