Now Tesla Solar Panels, Not Just Electric Cars, at Danger of Catching Fire

Since Elon Musk joined Tesla in 2004, he’s been no stranger to headlines. In addition to the electric vehicle company, Musk has also led SpaceX, The Boring Company, and SolarCity into the public eye. SolarCity is one of the lesser-known of Musk’s projects, but recent events have generated some negative attention with Tesla solar panels. 

Tesla Solar sign inside of an industrial building.
Tesla Solar logo | Getty Images

The history of car fires in Tesla vehicles

While Tesla continued to grow through 2013, three different Tesla Model S cars caught fire. Musk appropriately pointed out that it was a fine number compared to gas cars, but developments over the following years pointed to a trend. Recent instances of Teslas igniting have seemingly been impossible puzzles to figure out. Additionally, the complex Tesla battery structure has made the fires much more difficult to put out compared to gas fires.

Is Tesla covering up a much bigger problem with Tesla solar panels?

But Tesla isn’t the only electric project where Musk is “putting out fires.” A whistleblower complaint was recently filed against Tesla by a former field quality engineer, The Verge reports. This complaint describes how Tesla and SolarCity potentially may have known about defective electrical connectors that would go on to start fires in solar panels. After discovering the issue, Tesla allegedly lied to customers by explaining that they had to perform routine maintenance and not actually admitting to the issue.

While this is obviously poor customer service, it may also lead to potential legal action for SolarCity. Intentionally withholding information about a deadly system defect could lead to yet another day in court for Musk, especially as he’s no stranger to inviting legal controversy. Musk is very aware that his activity on Twitter can affect the Tesla stock price for better or worse, and he’s already had more than one run-in with the SEC about it. But absentminded tweets are one level of stock manipulation. Hiding a dangerous defect is something else altogether.

How the SEC is digging into Tesla

This specific battle with the SEC may not go Musk’s way, as Jalopnik reports that the commission was digging into SolarCity’s business dealings as far back as the initial purchase by Tesla in 2016. Jalopnik includes a quote from the investigation by Reuters: “‘We have confirmed with Division of Enforcement staff that the investigation from which you seek records is still active and ongoing,’ the SEC said in a Sept. 24 response to Henkes, [the Tesla whistleblower] declining his request to provide its records. The SEC official said the letter should not be taken as an indication by the agency that violations of law had occurred.”

Musk’s reputation as an iconoclast is appreciated by many of his followers, who have found their own clever ways to troll other drivers on the road. However, Musk may have concerns both at home and abroad. Much has been made of his struggle to land Tesla a foothold in China, and recent moves by Lotus have threatened Tesla’s market share. However, the SolarCity fires are just one more thing on Musk’s plate.

Musk has emerged as one of the 21st century’s most polarizing business figures, and it doesn’t look like he has any plans to give up that title. He’s going to Mars, he’s going deep beneath the Earth’s surface, and he’s convincing the world to go electric. But as other companies catch up to Tesla, Musk will need to innovate more than ever. It seems unlikely that setting customers’ houses on fire is the best way for Musk to bolster his image. But what do we know? After all, he’s the genius.

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