When I was sent this tip yesterday, I’ll admit that my initial thought was that it had to be some kind of setup from ardent Tesla-fetishists hoping I could be tricked into reporting on a hoax Tesla story, which would feed their odd persecution complexes. The tip I got linked to a Reddit post describing a burning Tesla (possibly a Plaid?)driving along with no one inside, and then blowing up. A self-driving Tesla meandering on its own through a neighbourhood, engulfed in flames? That’s a hell of an image, but I’m not buying it. At least not all of it. Some of this does prove to be true, though.
The Reddit post itself had no links or any means to corroborate the evidence, and a reverse image search of the photo turned up nothing. I didn’t think there was enough to pursue or confirm from this post alone.
For reference, here’s a screenshot of the Reddit post, in case it disappears, which it seems to have:
The original poster had this to say about the burning Tesla:
I’m an EMT in Lower Merion, which is about 20 minutes outside of Philly. We got the call around 9:30 or 10 last night to do rehab for the firefighters because it as super hot out but I’m not sure when it started.
Edit: apparently the reason there isn’t any info on it is that the cops in my area thinks that literally anything that goes boom is a terrorist attack so they’re not allowing any info out until they know more…
OK, first let’s get to what I was able to actually confirm via other sources: yes, a Tesla caught on fire and burned dramatically on the night of June 29, 2021. The Gladwyne Fire Department’s website describes the incident like this:
Gladwyne Firefighters responding to the 100 block of Rose Lane last night just before 9pm to assist Station 25 (Merion Fire Company of Ardmore) with a vehicle fire. While enroute to the call Chief 25 was advised that the reports were that a Tesla was on fire and it was well involved in fire. Engine 24 with a crew of 7 arrived on scene simultaneously with Engine 25. Due to prior training classes on Tesla Vehicle Fire emergencies, Engine 24 laid a 5 inch supply line into the scene so that we could keep a continual water stream on the fire to extinguish the fire and cool the batteries down to ensure complete extinguishment. Engine 24 and Engine 25 both deployed hand lines to extinguish the fire, each maintained a dedicated water source and continued to cool the vehicle down for almost 90 minutes.
Firefighters were on scene for just over 3 hours dealing with this emergency. Nobody was hurt in the incident and both crews worked hard in the high heat/humidity to mitigate the incident.
Thankfully, nobody was hurt, and there are no mentions of anyone being in the car. What’s not mentioned is if the car was actually in motion; pictures from the fire don’t seem to show it moving, and its position on the road is ambiguous, at best: it could have been driving, or it could have been parked, albeit a bit far from the curb.
As far as how it could have been driving on its own, it’s technically possible, but unlikely. Smart Summon can guide the car at low speeds with no one in it, but isn’t supposed to work on named, public roads.
Autopilot can be fooled into driving with no one in the driver’s seat, but somebody would have had to start the process and then ditch out of the car. Or the car could have been in neutral, rolling, if it was actually even moving at all.
This part I can’t find any confirmation of, so for now I see no reason to treat that as true. I have reached out to Chaz McGarvey, the fire chief at Lower Merion Township, but was told he’s out for the holiday and will get back to me.
No one else at the multiple involved fire departments I called would comment.
So, at this point, I’m not ready to say a burning Tesla was driving on its own.
The other big question that’s been brought up here is the question of “was this burned-out shell one of the few Model S Plaids that’s been delivered so far?”
This is tricky, because the car in the picture is so severely burned and melted, but based on what we can see, it does appear to be a new 2021 model. Look a the front bumper/air dam area there; it’s clearly the latest, updated one:
As far as if this one is a Plaid model, well, maybe? The wheels are the Tesla Arachnid wheels, which you can spec on either the Model S Long Range or the Plaid (and which eat up about 64 km of range!), so that’s not a definitive clue.
The only good visual clue that may be left under all the charring and melting may be the rear spoiler:
So, does our charred car have the spoiler, or not? Let’s see:
Huh. Yeah, that could be the remains of a spoiler there; it’s a more pronounced lip that appears to be a separate piece as opposed to the regular rear hatch line there.
So…maybe? I think there’s some visual evidence here to suggest that this is the first Model S Plaid to go up in flames, but I’m not ready to absolutely confirm that.
There’s a lot of curious things going on here: there’s no mention of the owner or driver, it’s possibly a brand-new Plaid, and there’s that initial, unconfirmed report of it driving on its own.
At this point, all I can confirm is that yes, what looks like a new Tesla burned, and it’s possibly a Plaid.
And maybe I’m getting a little paranoid.
UPDATE: This tweet appears to be referencing the Tesla that burned, and reveals a bit more information:
Our firm & @AthleteDefender represent an exec who purchased new Tesla Plaid Model S, which was 1/250 shipped. On Tuesday it spontaneously combusted. Our client was trapped & could have died. We tried reaching out to Tesla & have been ignored so far. This is car after escape. pic.twitter.com/wXyJXbWggJ
— Ben Meiselas (@meiselasb) July 1, 2021
Now, visually, the location and curb material and design seem consistent with the Tesla that’s confirmed to have burned by the Gladwyne Fire Department, but I have not been able to confirm that this is absolutely the same car.
If it is, then it helps solve at least one mystery: the car was driven normally by a person, who managed to escape.
I’d be very surprised if it was another Model S Plaid burning, which would be even worse. Also, the tweet seems incorrect in the statement about how many Plaids are being made for the first run; the tweet suggests 250, but at the press event for the car, Musk stated there were 25 ready to ship.
I’m attempting to confirm that this is the same car, and will update when I find out.