Insurance Company Admits It Faked Battery Fire in Tesla Crash Demonstration
The Tesla Model S that caught fire during the marketing stunt didn’t even have batteries in it.
A Tesla Model S dramatically flips, slides along its roof for a hundred feet, and then explodes. It sounds a lot like a climactic final scene from a movie car chase, but insurance company AXA just pretended it naturally happened during a publicity event... right up until the company admitted it didn't. The admission came after questioning from the German automotive publication 24Auto.de.
The rollover was one of two staged crashes used to demonstrate the supposed dangers of electric cars. AXA claimed the extremely Hollywood-style stunt was a showcase of what could happen when the "very high torque" of an EV caused a driver to lose control during acceleration. After rolling, the Model S slides along its roof, stops, and then spontaneously combusts into flames in what appears to be a battery fire.
AXA stated this was to demonstrate that the "underbody seems to be the Achilles heel of electric cars because the battery is not protected there," despite many modern electric cars indeed having immense amounts of protection on their undercarriage.
The company did not note whether the fire was staged until 24Auto questioned the insurance company directly. AXA clarified later that "a battery fire would have been too dangerous due to the guests present" and so all the battery cells had been removed from the Tesla prior to the stunt. The fire was planned with pyrotechnics and AXA said it "apologize[d] if we gave the wrong impression."
So why stage the stunt at all? The company wanted to draw attention to its study that found that drivers of EVs in Switzerland are involved in 50% more accidents with damage to their cars. The second test, a head-on collision between an e-Golf and an ICE Golf, was to demonstrate that EVs are heavier than ICE cars (which, yes, we knew).
Overall, it doesn't seem like there was a burning need to go 4th-of-July on a Model S to prove a point, and even more confusingly, AXA even noted in its own press release that battery fires are exceptionally rare. In the company's later clarification, the insurer admitted that its own staged crash likely wouldn't have damaged the battery enough to cause an actual fire. Maybe next time, leave the fireworks show for the after-party?
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