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Friday, March 28, 2014

Tesla Gets All Titanium On Everybody's Ass

© Tesla Motors
Car companies are notorious for being dicks. First they force you to go through some medieval, Games of Thrones meets Survivor style series of mental challenges, head games and psychological torture, ie: the dealership experience, and then, if you're lucky enough to have come away with anything better than a 75-year 80%APR financing option then you did OK for yourself and are probably one of those people your friends come to for car advice. You're not home-free quite yet tho, you still have to face the undisclosed "engineering inconveniences" like what plagued all those pickups from the 80's and 90's, the exploding tires on Explorers, and death by crummy ignitions in Chevy's numerous models. You see, often there are secret discussions behind large stacks of gold bullion where attorneys, auto company execs, and other people who generally have a slice of burnt toast where a human soul should be, gathering together to solve the problem of "how much does it cost to let these people die as opposed to fixing the problem?" It's no secret that companies weigh costs when deciding whether to issue a recall or not, and sadly that sometimes involves calculating the payouts to injury and death victims compared to retrofitting cars to actually be, you know, safe to drive or be a passenger in.  
Well, now you can again tell your adoring, but car-ignorant friends and family, that Tesla Motors still makes what are quite possibly the best all-around cars on the road. How so? Well consider that real-life Tony Stark carmaker extraordinaire, spacecraft dude, and all around badass, Elon Musk, just wiped the dark side of the moon with all other manufacturers by actually addressing a safety issue promptly, with well executed solutions and instant dissemination of information to their customers. This is how car makers of the future will need to operate unless they want to continue to get steamrolled by the looming auto giant that is Tesla. Times, they are a changin'. It reminds me of an interview I saw with one of the Ford family members who said that they are simply looking to make profits, and (to paraphrase) "if we could make more money building and selling garbage cans then we'd do that instead."
The quick version is that Musk immediately put forth his engineers to design a titanium protective plate that will prevent underbody incursions from all types of road debris, and will be fitting all new models on the production line with this update. Of course, you're shit out of luck if you have an earlier car without the protection... sorry, I forgot this is Tesla we're talking about, all current owners of a Tesla Model S will be notified that they can have their cars retrofitted with the new lifesaving device for free. Not even a self addressed stamped envelope is necessary.

Also, in totally unrelated news, today the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) closed their investigation into Tesla's cars with a final result of, "No Defect Trend Found." It's almost like some Karmatic reward is being given to Tesla for doing the right thing, -or- the NHTSA decided they just needed to be really, really, really blunt with other manufacturers about how these types things are supposed to be handled.
In reality, nobody can tell it better than Musk himself, so have a look at the press release below detailing his solution to what could have become a significant PR and safety nightmare. 
© Tesla Motors
Full Press Release from Tesla Motors:
In 2013, two extremely unusual Model S collisions resulted in underbody damage that led to car fires. These incidents, unfortunately, received more national headlines than the other 200,000 gasoline car fires that happened last year in North America alone. In both cases, the occupants walked away unharmed, thanks to the car’s safety features. The onboard computer warned the occupants to exit the vehicles, which they did well before any fire was noticeable. However, even if the occupants had remained in the vehicle and the fire department had not arrived, they would still have been safely protected by the steel and ceramic firewall between the battery pack and the passenger compartment.
It is important to note that there have been no fire injuries (or serious, permanent injuries of any kind) in a Tesla at all. The odds of fire in a Model S, at roughly 1 in 8,000 vehicles, are five times lower than those of an average gasoline car and, when a fire does occur, the actual combustion potential is comparatively small. However, to improve things further, we provided an over-the-air software update a few months ago to increase the default ground clearance of the Model S at highway speeds, substantially reducing the odds of a severe underbody impact.
Nonetheless, we felt it was important to bring this risk down to virtually zero to give Model S owners complete peace of mind. Starting with vehicle bodies manufactured as of March 6, all cars have been outfitted with a triple underbody shield. Tesla service will also retrofit the shields, free of charge, to existing cars upon request or as part of a normally scheduled service.
During the course of 152 vehicle level tests, the shields prevented any damage that could cause a fire or penetrate the existing quarter inch of ballistic grade aluminum armor plate that already protects the battery pack. We have tried every worst case debris impact we can think of, including hardened steel structures set in the ideal position for a piking event, essentially equivalent to driving a car at highway speed into a steel spear braced on the tarmac.
We believe these changes will also help prevent a fire resulting from an extremely high speed impact that tears the wheels off the car, like the other Model S impact fire, which occurred last year in Mexico. This happened after the vehicle impacted a roundabout at 110 mph, shearing off 15 feet of concrete curbwall and tearing off the left front wheel, then smashing through an eight foot tall buttressed concrete wall on the other side of the road and tearing off the right front wheel, before crashing into a tree. The driver stepped out and walked away with no permanent injuries and a fire, again limited to the front section of the vehicle, started several minutes later. The underbody shields will help prevent a fire even in such a scenario.
The first of the three shields is a rounded, hollow aluminum bar that is designed to either deflect objects entirely or, in the case of a self-stabilizing, ultra high strength object, like a three ball steel tow hitch, absorb the impact and force it to pike upwards well forward of the battery pack. This pierces the plastic aeroshield and front trunk liner, but causes no damage affecting safety and the car remains in control and driveable before, during and after the impact.
This is followed by a titanium plate, which has exceptional strength-to-weight properties and is more commonly seen in aerospace or military applications. The titanium plate prevents sensitive front underbody components from being damaged and aids in neutralizing the road debris.
By this point, the vast majority of objects will have been deflected or crushed. For the rare piece of debris that remains intact, we added a third shield, which is a shallow angle, solid aluminum extrusion that further absorbs impact energy, provides another layer of deflection and finally causes the Model S to ramp up and over the object if it is essentially incompressible and immovable.
Thanks to high speed cameras fixed underneath the cars during testing, we have a close-up view of what happens to the objects on impact. As illustrated in the slow motion videos below, the shields destroy everything from a solid concrete block to a steel alternator and safely capture and eject objects made of ultra-hard steel.
The protective qualities of the underbody shields are substantial, but their effect on the overall structure of the vehicle is minimal. In total, the shields only have a 0.1 percent impact on range and don’t affect ride or handling. Wind tunnel testing shows no discernible change in drag or lift on the car.
As the empirical evidence suggests, the underbody shields are not needed for a high level of safety. However, there is significant value to minimizing owner inconvenience in the event of an impact and addressing any lingering public misperception about electric vehicle safety. With a track record of zero deaths or serious, permanent injuries since our vehicles went into production six years ago, there is no safer car on the road than a Tesla. The addition of the underbody shields simply takes it a step further.
- Elon
Source: Tesla Motors

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