Tesla, Thermal Runaway, and Negligence

This started with an article over at The Silicon Graybeard, which was of interest to the geeks who love all things tech. (Which includes me!) It was on the problem of Thermal Runaway in lithium ion batteries. And they are a problem.

As the number of electric vehicles continues to grow, the number of fires is going up. I did a piece about burning Teslas five years ago, in February of ’14. At that time, Tesla seemed to have a catastrophic fire rate of about 1 in 4000 cars. For perspective, at the same time, GM had just recalled 370,000 of their GMC Sierra pickups for a software fix that had caused eight fires, or 1 in 46,250, less than 1/10 the electric Tesla’s rate.

This prompted a search, which was going to try and get better numbers on Tesla and the current state of affairs. (I may still keep looking for that, and if I find it, I will post it somewhere.) But instead I tripped over something I missed. Since I don’t have any connection to the CNN, MSNBC, EIEIO 24-hour-news, I don’t know if this got much coverage. Though my guess is any coverage was drowned out under “Oh, my God, the .gov is shut down!” or “Russia, Russia, Russia!” Teens burned to death after 116 mph crash. Lawsuit blames Tesla for the speed and fire.

Now ordinarily I wouldn’t think they would have much of a chance with the lawsuit, but then there is this.

The suit presents James and Jenny Riley, Barrett’s parents, and the Montserratts as victims of Tesla negligence. Three days after Barrett Riley got ticketed for zooming the Tesla at 112 mph through a 50-mph zone on March 3, the suit claims, the Rileys had Tesla mechanics install a device that put an 85-mph limit on the car’s speed.

But when the car was serviced from March 29 through April 3 at Tesla’s Bahia Beach Broward County service center, Tesla mechanics “improperly removed the speed limiter/governor without the permission and consent of” the Rileys, the suit says.

Oops. Of course it is Beyond the Pale to assume that parents would actually do some parenting and take the keys away from the kid. Get them a Trabant, They couldn’t go 50 MPH. Or an early VW, though both of those lack any safety equipment. And I do mean Any. (My dad had a VW bus, that was lucky to go 45 MPH.) But then that wouldn’t fit with the whole Aventura, FL scene. I could barely afford to park my car in Aventura, not that there was much reason to go there. I seem to remember a decent deli. (Real NY pastrami.)

The thermal runaway connection? The batteries caught fire in the crash, and were nearly impossible to douse.

“The two battery packs in the car contain hundreds of small batteries that power everything on the car,” Corboy said. “If one of the batteries catches fire, every battery around it catches fire in short order.”

And an electrical fire burns differently from a gasoline or oil fire. Water and foam do not knock the fire out. As the NTSB report says, after using 200 to 300 gallons of water and foam in an attempt to extinguish the burning car, the battery blazed up again on the tow truck. It rose again in the storage yard, requiring fire rescue workers to put it out.

The current state of battery technology is almost good enough. The trouble is, in order to pack in enough battery power to try to make the range acceptable, given the hours-long recharging time, engineers have to leave out all that bulky fire-suppression material.

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Elon Musk vs SEC

That’s gonna leave a mark. SEC’s Musk Lawsuit Highlights Dangers of Social Media Disclosures.

So Musk tweeted that he had funding to take Tesla Motors private. Turns out, maybe not. The SEC sued for stock manipulation.

The SEC is seeking civil penalties and asked the court to bar Mr. Musk from being an officer or director of a public company. Mr. Musk called the suit unjustified and said he has always taken action “in the best interests of truth, transparency and investors.” Tesla and its board said Thursday in a joint statement they are fully confident in Mr. Musk.

Tesla stock fell 9.9% in after-hours trading. (Hat tip – Watts Up With That)

Tesla Motors’ Cars Can Be Hacked?!

Color me shocked. Tesla’s keyless entry vulnerable to spoofing attack, researchers find: Now is a good time to add a PIN code to your Tesla.

Last week’s Tesla security update may have been more urgent than the company let on. Researchers at KU Leuven have figured out a way to spoof Tesla’s key fob system, as first reported by Wired. The result would let an attacker steal a Tesla simply by walking past the owner and cloning his key.

The attack is particularly significant because Tesla pioneered the keyless entry concept, which has since spread to most luxury cars.

KU Leuven university is in Belgium.

If the door locks and the ignition lock is not secure, does anyone want to take bets on the rest of the computer control being secure?

Keys – especially automotive keys – aren’t always the best security, but this is insane.

“It’s quite hard to run companies. Especially car companies”

Elon Musk seems determined to destroy whatever credibility Tesla Motors once had. Tesla Erupts in Chaos After Senior Execs Leave, Musk Tokes Up.

So it is legal in California to smoke marijuana and tobacco (mixed) cigarettes. That doesn’t mean it is a good idea for the CEO and public face of a public company (that already is in some hot water) to do so on an interview.

Hours after that, 2 executives resigned. (Giving up multi-million dollar signing bonuses in the process.) CFO Dave Morton gave notice less than a month into the job. Gabrielle Toledano, the head of HR, announced she won’t be returning from leave.

The CFO position has been impossible to fill. Or keep filled.

Tesla has long struggled with high turnover among its senior executive ranks, and its finance team in particular has gone through significant tumult lately. In the first quarter of this year, the company lost Morton’s predecessor, Eric Branderiz, and Susan Repo, who was treasurer and vice president of finance. CFO Deepak Ahuja retired in 2015, only to return in 2017 after his successor, Jason Wheeler, quit after just 15 months.

The hot water that Musk and Tesla Motors are in?

Morton, a former CFO for computer-drive maker Seagate Technology Plc, joined Tesla one day before Musk tweeted that he was considering buying out some investors at $420 a share and taking the company private. The CEO abandoned that effort 17 days later, and in the process drew a subpoena from the Securities and Exchange Commission and a series of lawsuits alleging market manipulation.

Go read the whole thing. It isn’t very long, and some of the graphics are worth it on their own. Especially for photo that is sure to become an iconic image of Musk in the future.

The quote that forms the title to this post, is part of Musk’s insanity that I couldn’t let pass.

“It’s quite hard to run companies. Especially car companies,” Musk said. “It’s very difficult to keep a car company alive.”

Which explains why no car company ever manages to stay in business. </sarcasm>

  • Opel: (Currently a subsidiary of GM – still producing cars) Founded by Adam Opel on 21 January 1862
  • Ford Motor Company: Incorporated June 16, 1903
  • Daimler, AG: Merger of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft and Benz & Cie. June 28, 1926
  • BMW: Started producing automobiles in 1928 with the purchase of Dixi Automobil Werke AG from Gothaer Waggonfabrik.
  • Audi AG: Renamed Auto Union which was formed in June 1932 by the merger of 4 companies.
  • Toyota Motor Corporation: Founded by Kiichiro Toyoda in 1937
  • Honda Motor Company: Founded by Soichiro Honda in 1949
  • Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A: Founded by Ferruccio Lamborghini in 1963
  • Hyundai Motor Company: Established in 1967 (from Hyundai Engineering and Construction Co.)
  • Peugeot: Founded 1976
  • SSC North America (formerly Shelby SuperCars Inc.): Founded by Jerod Shelby in 1999 (no relation to Carroll Shelby)

So Calling It “Autopilot” Seems to Be Marketing Nonsense

But then what did we expect? Car assistance systems only boost safety if drivers pay attention, tests find.

During the test drive, Autopilot generally performed well on a busy stretch of New Jersey highway, but the car nearly drove into another when two lanes merged together.

“Not quite a perfect system. The car was not aware that there was another car that was about to steer into us,” Stevens said.

The net safety benefit isn’t clear. If it mostly encourages drivers to not pay attention, then they might not be paying attention at a crucial moment.

On the magazine’s test track, Fisher demonstrated how Tesla’s Autopilot struggled to navigate turns when the road lines faded and relied on the driver to hit the brakes as the car approached the end of the track. He said Autopilot can’t monitor how the technology is used or a driver’s attention to the road.

Electric Cars – Not the Climate Answer You Were Looking For

Batteries are weak spot in electric cars, in more ways than one. Swedish survey: Production of electric car batteries emits tons of CO2

VL The Swedish Environment Institute has investigated the influence of lithion-ion batteries on the environment from the Traffic Administration and the Energy Agency from a life-cycle perspective. Batteries intended for electric cars are included in the survey. The authors Lisbeth Dahllöf and Mia Romare have done a metastudy – that is, they have reviewed and compared available studies.

The report shows that the production of batteries leads to high emissions. For each kilowatt hour of storage capacity in the battery, emissions of 150-200 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents already produced at the factory.

Considering both the Nissan Leaf, and the Tesla Model S…

Already when you buy the car, there has been a discharge corresponding to approximately 5.3 tonnes and 17.5 tonnes for batteries of this size, respectively. The numbers may be difficult to relate to. By comparison, a trip round Stockholm-New York by air causes emissions of about 600 kilograms of carbon dioxide.

(A tonne is 1000 kilograms for you metrically-challenged Americans, or about 2205 pounds)

Running costs (in terms of carbon-footprint) will depend on how your electricity is generated locally. The article notes that Sweden gets the bulk of its power from two sources, nuclear and hydroelectric, so they look quite good on the going-forward costs. (Leftists’ heads exploding over nuclear power in three, two, …)

Okay, it always fun to explode people’s preconceived notions (that attitude got me into a lot of trouble in my youth), but if you read the fine print, the data quality may be a bit suspect. (What is the energy consumption of Cobalt mining in the Congo? Who really knows. Its human-cost in terms of child labor, etc is usually what people worry about. That, and the fact that it has quadrupled in price in 2 years.) But it is clear, that these vehicles aren’t the answer to everything.

The Wonders of Technology – only wonderful when they work

First we have the Amazon Echo inanity. Amazon Echo sent family’s private conversation to another user | CBC News

It turns out the Amazon echo that recorded a private conversation and then emailed the MP3 to an “acquaintance” wasn’t hacked. It was doing what it was programmed to do, just not what anyone actually wanted it to do.

An “unlikely” string of events prompted Amazon’s Echo personal assistant device to record a Portland, Ore., family’s private conversation and then send the recording to an acquaintance in Seattle, the company said Thursday.

Having spent the bulk of my career in application software development, my take on what “unlikely” means is that the programmers (who probably did their own testing) never considered that line of actions. Why? Because Alexa is all about playing music, and reading calendar entries, and the like, and they tested that over and over again by listening to all their favorite music. (Hat Tip to Small Dead Animals: I, For One, Welcome Our New Self-Driving Overlords)

I wouldn’t have one of those things in my house if you paid me to.

Then we have our latest Tesla autopilot-enabled crash. Police: Tesla in Autopilot sped up before Utah crash – CBS News

So not only was Tesla’s vaunted (if you talk to them) software not able to recognize and avoid a big red truck with flashing lights, it actually sped up, right before it crashed.

A Tesla Model S that crashed while in Autopilot mode in Utah this month accelerated in the seconds before it smashed into a stopped firetruck, according to a police report obtained by The Associated Press. Two people were injured.

Elon Musk doesn’t understand why this is news.

It’s super messed up that a Tesla crash resulting in a broken ankle is front page news and the ~40,000 people who died in US auto accidents alone in past year get almost no coverage https://t.co/6gD8MzD6VU
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 14, 2018

For a smart guy, that’s a pretty stupid statement.