August 4, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Ford investigates fire in prototype truck

Washington — Ford Motor Co. says it is investigating why a prototype pickup caught fire during testing in California.

Several auto news outlets published photographs Monday from freelance photographer Chris Doane that showed a camouflaged truck engulfed in flames.

“While testing an experimental vehicle in Death Valley, there was a fire,” Ford spokeswoman Kelli Felker said Monday. “We are investigating.”

Autoweek said the vehicle is an aluminum-bodied 2016 Ford Super Duty pickup, citing Doane, who told the magazine it took about 21 minutes for the fire to consume the truck. Two test engineers exited safely, Doane told Autoweek. Ford hasn’t disclosed if its next-generation Super Duty will have an aluminum body. The smaller 2015 F-150 will have a mostly aluminum body — a first for Ford.

Vehicle fires are fairly common, including in some prototype vehicles. Last month, an Acura prototype for its forthcoming NSX caught fire and was destroyed during testing at the Nurburgring race track in Germany near Cologne. Neither vehicle engineer was injured.

U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 152,300 automobile fires per year in 2006-2010. These fires caused an average of 209 deaths, 764 injuries and $536 million in direct property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Automobile fires were involved in 10 percent of reported U.S. fires, 6 percent percent of U.S. fire deaths.

Mechanical or electrical failures or malfunctions were factors in roughly two-thirds of the automobile fires.