Tesla Battery Failures Make 'Bricking' a Buzzword

March 4, 2012 12:00 am

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AN uproar recently ignited on automotive blogs over a post about a Tesla Roadster whose battery needed replacement after its owner parked the car, low on charge and unplugged, for more than two months. The battery, which had fully discharged, could not be revived.

While controversy has swirled around the incident -- with bloggers arguing about an owner's responsibility to keep the battery charged and the motivation in making the details public -- Tesla has confirmed basic facts about the situation.

The incident made a buzzword of "bricking," a term from the high-tech industry typically used to describe electronic devices rendered useless by corrupted software. In this case, it was the 1,000-pound lithium-ion battery pack of an electric Roadster -- a car that sold for about $110,000 but whose production has now ended -- that became, effectively, a brick.

At a conference for electric vehicles last month in San Diego, Tesla's chief technical officer, J. B. Straubel, told reporters that all batteries could be subject to this total failure mode, but fewer than 10 Roadsters might be "susceptible" to the problem. He added: "If you ran your conventional engine without oil, whose fault would it be? It would be the owner's."

Since then, technical experts and electric-car enthusiasts have debated whether it is possible for an electric car's battery pack to become irreversibly depleted, and under what circumstances. Coming just weeks after fires in Chevrolet Volt lithium-ion packs resulting from federal crash tests under laboratory conditions, the failures gave fodder to critics who have questioned the viability of battery-powered cars. Here are answers to some questions raised by the Tesla battery situation:

Q. How exactly did this all begin?

A. A description of a Tesla Roadster in California whose battery suffered a total failure was posted on theunderstatement.com. The crux of the matter was Tesla's denial of warranty coverage because the owner had not plugged in the car while it was parked, as specified in the owner's manual and other materials. A replacement battery from Tesla's Los Angeles service center was offered at "around $40,000," according to a letter to the owner from Tesla's vice president for service, J. Joost de Vries.


First Published 2012-03-03 23:03:33

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