Owner defends Tesla after latest fire image

As federal regulators are now taking a closer look at the three fire accidents, the Tennessee doctor whose Tesla caught fire last week is defending the maker and insists he will buy another one of the electric vehicles.

Still, the third fire involving a Model S in barely six weeks has triggered a preliminary federal investigation and a sharp slump in the California maker’s once seemingly unsinkable stock.

The latest fire resulted from an incident that occurred in Smyrna, Tennessee – ironically, the same town where Nissan produces its Leaf battery-car. According to a statement released by owner Juris Shibayama, he was traveling at 70 mph when he struck what appears to have been a vehicle trailer hitch that had come loose on the highway. Moments later, Shibayama received the first in a series of warnings advising him “pull over safely.” He exited the vehicle as smoke began to pour out of the front battery compartment.

“This experience does not in any way make me think that the Tesla Model S is an unsafe car,” the doctor wrote on the Tesla blog page. “I would buy another one in a heartbeat.”

The owner of the first Tesla Model S to catch fire – also due to damage from road debris in a Seattle suburb in late September – wrote a similarly positive letter to the battery carmaker’s CEO Elon Musk following his incident. The third fire occurred in Mexico after a motorist slammed into a concrete wall.

Meanwhile, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has announced a preliminary investigation, stating that it “is in close communication with Tesla and local authorities gathering information about the incident to determine if additional action is necessary.”

Last week’s fire likely couldn’t have come at a worse time for Tesla. After a huge run-up in its stock price – which peaked at $194.50, compared to a 52-week low of just $29.85 – the maker’s shares have been in near-freefall since the beginning of October. On Friday, they fell another $1.82, or 1.3%, to close at 137.95.