In our prior post, we discussed the latest public relations issue involving electric car maker Tesla. Essentially, another fire emanating from a car battery made headlines and created strong suspicion that federal investigators would soon be involved.

Since then, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that it was launching a formal investigation into the safety of the cars.

Before the investigation was made public, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced on his blog that he steadfastly stands behind the safety of his cars and explained that since the vehicles have been in production (in 2012), there have been 400 deaths and 1,200 serious injuries in fires caused by ruptured gas tanks in the United States. Meanwhile, drivers of Tesla cars have suffered no injuries or deaths during that time.

Nevertheless, the public perception likely prompted the NHTSA to act. It remains to be seen whether the administration’s investigation will lead to recalls, as it commonly does with other automakers. A recall is one way an automaker can avoid widespread liability based on a defect that puts consumers at risk. When a federal report identifies the sources of a defect, the responsibility of correcting it (or at least taking steps to do so) lies with the automaker. If an automaker fails to do so, it could be held responsible for injuries caused by the defect.

In the meantime, Tesla has reportedly taken some steps to reduce the likelihood that future fires will occur, including raising the clearance level while driving on highways and amending car warranties so they apply to car battery fires.

Source: USA Today.com, “Feds open formal probe into Tesla electric car fires,” Chris Woodyard, November 19, 2013