Seattle— Shares of electric car company Tesla sank more than 6 percent Wednesday after an Internet video showed flames spewing from one of the company’s vehicles near Seattle.
Shares of Tesla Motors Inc. fell $12.05 to $180.95 — the biggest one-day decline since July 16.
The incident happened Tuesday after 8 a.m. as the driver was traveling through Kent, Wash., said Trooper Chris Webb of the Washington State Patrol. The driver said he believed he had struck some metal debris on the freeway, so he exited the highway and the vehicle became disabled.
The driver told authorities he began to smell something burning and then the car caught fire. Firefighters needed several attempts to extinguish the flames because the blaze kept reigniting, Webb said.
A trooper was unable to locate any objects on the road, but Department of Transportation workers did see some debris near the scene.
The automobile website Jalopnik.com posted photos of the blaze that it says were taken by a reader, along with a video. The video shows the front of the Tesla Model S in flames.
Tesla said the flames were contained to the front of the $70,000 car. Late Wednesday night, Tesla said the fire began in the vehicle’s battery.
Spokeswoman Liz Jarvis-Shean said the fire was caused by a large metallic object striking one of the battery pack’s modules. She said the fire was contained to a small section at the front of the vehicle.
Shares of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Tesla have risen more than 400 percent since the start of the year. But investors likely were alarmed, with some selling their shares, out of fear that the fire could be an indication of a flaw in the company’s battery packs.
The company’s battery system and the Model S itself have received rave reviews, including a top crash-test score from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a tie for the highest auto test score ever recorded by Consumer Reports magazine.
After getting the top crash test score, Tesla touted the Model S as being “the safest car in America.” The car’s liquid-cooled 85 kilowatt-hour battery, mounted below the passenger compartment floor, uses lithium-ion chemistry similar to batteries that power laptop computers and mobile phones.
Two years ago, battery fires broke out in three Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid cars after crash-testing, but NHTSA investigators determined the Volt was no more risky than vehicles with conventional gasoline engines.
Still, the fires tarnished the Volt’s reputation and cut into sales. Recently, though, sales of the car have recovered.