The Tesla Model S electric car will receive a new underbody shield to help keep its lithium-ion batteries safe. In a blog post, company CEO Elon Musk said the shield was implemented on all new Model S sedans since March 6, and can be retrofitted to older cars for free.
Critics raised concerns over the durability of Tesla Model S battery packs last year after a car in Washington caught fire. The car struck a "large metal object" which punched a hole in the battery pack, causing a fire. In addition, a high-speed Tesla Model S crash in Mexico resulted in the car catching fire after the battery pack was compromised.
The upgrade consists of adding three metal shields beneath the Tesla Model S. First is a hollow aluminum bar designed to deflect objects away from the car, or to push them upward into the front trunk compartment ahead of the batteries. Next is a titanium plate designed to keep any road debris from punching into the battery pack or other "sensitive front underbody components." Finally, an angled piece of aluminum is designed to "ramp up" the car so it jumps over any immovable obstacles.
Musk said that Tesla performed 152 tests of this shield system with debris of varying sizes and types, and found that the shields fully prevented debris from damaging the batteries. He also reiterated that fires in the Tesla Model S are extremely rare.
"The odds of fire in a Model S, at roughly 1 in 8000 vehicles, are five times lower than those of an average gasoline car," he wrote. "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."
Though the shielding does add weight to the Tesla Model S, Musk said the impact on electric driving range is only a 0.1-percent decrease. He said the shields don't harm the car's handling and don't have an impact on its aerodynamic performance.