Tesla defends Model S safety as stocks plunge

TOKYO Tue Nov 19, 2013 1:24am EST

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TOKYO (Reuters) - Tesla Motors Inc (TSLA.O) on Tuesday stood by the safety of its electric cars as the U.S. company's shares continue to sink after reporting a third fire in its Model S luxury sedan.

Speaking to reporters ahead of this week's Tokyo Motor Show, Tesla's Asia-Pacific Director Kevin Yu repeated the company's stance that it had no plans to recall the Model S, which has been involved in three accidents that ended in fires in a span of six weeks.

"I think the most important thing to remember when we talk about the accidents is that they were accidents," he said. "They were not a result of a spontaneous fire."

He sidestepped questions over whether the car's structure, which houses the pack of small batteries across the base of the vehicle, could be the culprit. General Motors Co (GM.N), by comparison, uses large-format battery cells in a T-shape in the centre of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid car.

In the most recent fire, in Tennessee, the Model S had run over a tow hitch that punctured the armor plating protecting the pack of lithium-ion battery cells, according to police reports.

Tesla's shares have plunged 37 percent since the first fire occurred near Seattle on October 1.

Still, the company's shares have surged about four-fold this year, boosting its value above that of Italian automaker Fiat (FIA.MI), parent of Chrysler Group LLC.

Tesla launched its Model S electric car last year. It is preparing to introduce the Model X crossover late in 2014, with high-volume production aimed for the second quarter of 2015.

The Model S starts at $70,000 before a federal tax credit, although most are sold at $100,000 or more.

Next year, the automaker will begin design work on its third-generation electric car, which is intended for the mass market and will have a roughly $35,000 price tag.

(Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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