A fatal crash and vehicle fire of a Tesla Inc. Model X near Mountain View, California, last week has prompted a federal field investigation, Reuters reports, citing the US National Transportation Safety Board.
News of the investigation sparked a selloff in Tesla stock, which tumbled 8.2 percent, or US$25 a share, to close at US$279.18, its lowest close in almost a year, the news agency said.
In last week’s accident, it was unclear if Tesla’s automated control system was driving the car. The accident involved two other cars, the NTSB and police said.
Tesla vehicles have a system called Autopilot that handles some driving tasks. The 38-year-old Tesla driver died at a nearby hospital shortly after the crash.
“We have been deeply saddened by this accident, and we have offered our full cooperation to the authorities as we work to establish the facts of the incident,” Tesla said in a statement.
Government scrutiny of the Palo Alto, California company is mounting. This is the second NTSB field investigation into a Tesla crash since January.
The California Highway Patrol said the electric-powered Tesla Model X crashed into a freeway divider on Friday last week and then was hit by a Mazda before colliding with an Audi.
The Tesla’s lithium batteries caught fire, and emergency officials consulted company engineers before determining how to extinguish the battery fire and move the vehicle safely. NTSB said the issues being examined include the post-crash fire and removing the vehicle from the scene.
In January, the NTSB and US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent investigators to California to investigate the crash of a fire truck and a Tesla that apparently was traveling in semi-autonomous mode. The agencies have not disclosed any findings.
The NTSB can make safety recommendations but only NHTSA can order automakers to recall unsafe vehicles or fine automakers if they fail to remedy safety defects in a timely fashion. Before the agency can demand a recall, it must open a formal investigation, a step it has not yet taken.
Tesla’s Autopilot allows drivers under certain conditions to take their hands off the wheel for extended periods. Still, Tesla requires users to agree to keep their hands on the wheel “at all times” before they can use Autopilot.
The NTSB faulted Tesla in a prior fatal Autopilot crash.
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