Local fire departments are investigating the cause of a Tesla Model 3 vehicle which caught fire inside of a residential parking garage in Shanghai on Tuesday.

Why it matters: As Tesla’s locally built models take off in the Chinese market, the vehicle blaze, which has attracted a remarkable amount of media coverage, could hamper more widespread EV adoption.

Details: Tesla confirmed to Chinese media on Wednesday that one of its Model 3 vehicles burst into flames in Shanghai on Tuesday night. The owner reportedly drove the sedan into an underground garage, struck a manhole cover at a very low speed, and saw flames coming out of the car’s floorpan after exiting the vehicle.

  • The vehicle then “exploded,” though the driver managed to avoid injury, according to state-owned media, The Paper. Other media reported four explosions in total.
  • A Weibo user going by the handle “Zhou Wanjun,” also a Tesla owner, arrived at the scene after the fire was extinguished. He told TechNode that a witness he spoke with had watched several fire trucks arrive as the fire intensified. Zhou first posted to the Chinese microblogging site on Monday a photo of the car showing extensive damage.
  • Firefighters were quickly called to the scene and controlled the fire, after the owner and parking garage security staff failed to extinguish the fire, according to a Chinese media report. No one was injured.
  • The body of the car was badly burned as a result of the fire reaching its interior cabin.
  • An initial investigation indicated that the collision with the manhole cover could have caused significant damage to the vehicle and triggered the subsequent incident, according to a company statement to Chinese media.
  • The type of battery pack in the vehicle is still unknown, but Tesla’s Chinese battery partner, CATL, on Wednesday denied any involvement in the car fire, reported National Business Daily (in Chinese).

Context: The vehicle blaze has prompted concern over a possible design flaw or quality issue in Tesla’s locally built cars, with some saying a low-speed collision to the chassis of a vehicle is an unlikely cause of a battery fire.

  • Tesla in early 2019 reported that one of its imported Model S vehicles caught fire in a Shanghai parking garage and blamed the fire on a battery short circuit.
  • Tesla’s locally made Model 3 was China’s top-selling electric car last year, with deliveries of 137,459 units. General Motors’ Wuling Hongguang Mini EV followed close behind, according to figures from China Passenger Car Association.
  • Tesla did not respond to TechNode’s request for comment.

Updated: additional information about incident added to “Details” section.

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Jill Shen

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: jill.shen@technode.com or Twitter: @yushan_shen