US electric vehicle maker Tesla is set to pay $1.5 million to settle a lawsuit regarding the voltage restriction of batteries amid a spate of fires in their Model S sedans.
The suit, filed in August 2019, alleged that Tesla reduced the maximum voltage to which battery packs in around 1,743 Model S vehicles could be charged.
The over-the-air software updates to battery management systems in May 2019 related to charging and thermal control following a number of incidents where batteries caused fires in their Model S vehicles.
Plaintiff David Rasmussen launched the claim after the software update reportedly reduced his Model S vehicle’s battery by 8kWh, decreased range and increased charging times.
Lawyers for the owners who sued said the "voltage limitation was temporary, with a 10% reduction lasting about 3 months, and a smaller 7% reduction lasting another 7 months before the corrective update was released in March 2020," reported news outlet Reuters.
However, Tesla was found to have fraudulently concealed information the cars would “experience a significant decrease in the total amount of range, and other performance issues”, according to the court paper.
The settlement is pending approval by federal district court of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.
A hearing to finalise the proposed settlement is scheduled for 9 December which, if approved, would see the 1,743 class members paid $625 each.
Tesla did not respond to BEST’s request for a comment.
Model S electric vehicle fires
The over-the-air software update followed a number of fires in Tesla’s Model S cars.
The fires included: a “single battery module” causing a Model S in Shanghai, China, to catch alight in April, 2019; a Model S fire in San Francisco, US, in May 2019; also in May 2019, a Model S caught alight in Hong Kong; in July 2019 a Model S caught alight in Germany.
To date, Tesla has failed to provide its customers with any further information regarding the cause of these fires and has failed to inform customers as to which vehicles are potentially at risk of catching fire, according to court papers.
Court filings say 1,552 of the affected Tesla Model S sedans have had their batteries’ voltage fully restored, and 57 received full battery replacements.
A subsequent update restored about 3% of the battery voltage in the vehicles, and a third update released in March 2020 was designed to fully restore the batteries’ voltage over time as the vehicles are driven, the settlement documents said.
BEST has been reporting on Tesla fires as far back as 2013 when the company faced a costly recall after three fires in five weeks on its Model S called into question the safety of the battery.