Earlier this month, actor Paul Walker tragically passed away when his 2005 Porsche Carrera GT supercar wrecked and caught on fire. Just weeks before, Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA) continually made headlines when several flagship Model S cars caught fire and nearly caused serious injury to the drivers. A new study by Osurv suggests these automotive events are linked and the fires may have a deadly connection.
Three Model S fires in 30 days
On Oct 1st, 2013 in Seattle, a Tesla Model S struck a metal object on the highway and quickly caught fire. The driver narrowly escaped. On Oct 18th in Mexico, a Model S was involved in a high speed car accident that ended with the vehicle becoming engulfed in flames. Finally, on Nov 6, outside of Nashville, another Model S ran over a tow hitch and then caught fire. All three incidents were ultimately caused by battery packs igniting from punctures and other damage.
Tesla has since made engineering changes to all their cars and now offers fire coverage on an extended warranty. The upcoming BMW i3 and i8 have already been designed with special shields to protect their battery packs from this kind of damage, and the Nissan Leaf has yet to report a single fire in 60k+ vehicles in operation, presumably due to a similar construction.
Paul Walker’s Porsche may have a similar design flaw
According to new reports about the Paul Walker accident, the 2005 Porsche Carrera GT that carried him and Roger Rodas may have been leaking power steering fluid. This is typically caused by wear and tear on the steering lines (i.e. dry rot) and/or undercarriage impact damage from a road object. Since undercarriage vulnerability was the root cause for the Tesla fires, there appears to be a deeper connection between the two vehicles and the nature of their design.
It is still unknown what specifically caused Rodas’ Carrera GT to lose control, though some witnesses reported hearing a bang before the actual impact. This could have been caused by the car striking road debris. If this is the case, then it’s possible the debris struck a vital unprotected component like on the Teslas, initiating a chain of events that led to a deadly outcome. Due to the intense heat of the fire burning up evidence and the lack of clear video footage, we may never know what really happened.
Elon Musk has a history with Porsche
Elon Musk, the eccentric founder of Tesla, is rumored to have owned the same model of Porsche that cost the life of Paul Walker. The photo below, from a Business Insider interview of Elon Musk, shows the exterior of his lavish estate. In the corner of the photo, tucked in the far left garage bay, is another Porsche model. Since Musk appears to be a fan, one must wonder if Porsche design served as inspiration for Model S’s sleek look and potential undercarriage design issues. The cars do look remarkably similar.
Exotic car owners take a mobile survey
To investigate these connections, Osurv conducted a mobile survey of 248 exotic car owners in California while they attended various automotive events including Supercar Sunday, Motor4Toys, Cars & Coffee, and the Paul Walker memorial car rally. Events like these are often frequented by celebrity car enthusiasts such as Jay Leno, pictured below at Supercar Sunday. In 2005, Jay Leno lost control of a Carrera GT at a racetrack, ending in a brutal wreck. Jay walked away without a scratch.
In the survey, we asked several key questions exploring owners’ thoughts and beliefs about their exotic cars. When asked which car manufacturer they strongly associated with Porsche design, a whopping 82% selected Tesla, 9% picked Mercedes Benz, 5% selected BMW, and 4% were spread across other manufacturers. This proves there is at least a superficial connection between the Porsche Carrera GT and the Tesla Model S.
Special Osurv technology allowed for precise followup questions. Certain respondents were asked why they associate Tesla with Porsche, specifically what trait they think the two brands have in common. The majority, 65%, selected Safety. 29% selected Design and only 6% picked Engineering. Safety is apparently a very hot topic.
Do you believe there is a link between Tesla’s fires and Paul Walker’s fiery crash?
- 78% replied Yes
- 3% said No
- 19% were unsure
More questions than answers
Until the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) safety probe into Tesla is complete and the final Paul Walker crash scene investigation wraps up, nobody can say for sure that the two are linked. However, the survey shows that people are starting to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Whether it’s an innocent trait carried over by a zealous designer or something more, only time will tell. In the meantime, prospective buyers of both Tesla and Porsche are staying on the sidelines until the smoke clears.