As the U.S. traffic safety watchdog announced Tuesday it would open a “preliminary evaluation” into the Tesla Model S car fires viewed around the world, the usual suspects have come out with their own spin on the news.

Tesla fans have decided to focus on CEO Elon Musk’s overnight blog post defending the reputation of his car and claiming his company requested the investigation to clear any misconceptions that the Model S luxury electric sedan is a fire trap.







The critics of Musk’s vision who see the Model S as a toy for rich progressives have predictably jumped on the other bandwagon.

In between the radical camps are some level-headed auto reporters who raise their eyebrows at the idea that an automaker would have requested an investigation from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that the NHTSA wouldn’t have looked into otherwise.






Karl Brauer, senior analyst at automotive pricing and information provider Kelley Blue Book, says the official inquiry specifically into the Model S battery pack should put to rest lingering concerns. 

“While only three Tesla fires have occurred, that's three more than I'm aware of for the Nissan Leaf, which has sold in greater numbers while being on the market longer," he said by email. "Is there an inherent design flaw in the Tesla's battery pack that makes it more prone to fires compared to other electric cars? That's what NHTSA will be determining.”

The timing of Musk’s blog post does seem to suggest his effort to get ahead of the news, and it worked with some who chose to headline Musk’s blog post over the NHTSA announcement. The snark-meisters at the popular Zero Hedge blog probably take the cake for this, sarcastically claiming the NHTSA’s high safety rating assigned to the Model S earlier this year was the result of some kind of quid-pro-quo:




Other comedians joined in:




And from Norway, Europe’s most electric-vehicle-obsessed countries, a group of racecar fanatics use the investigation to give a shout-out to petrol:



With all the chatter Tuesday about the official “preliminary evaluation” into two U.S. Model S fires since Oct. 1, the most interesting part of the NTHSA investigation is being looked over: One of the first official, highly specific estimates for the number of Model S sedans currently in use in the U.S.

NHTSA report The NHTSA provided a very specific number for its estimate of Model S sedans on U.S. roads. it's lower than the rough estimate that Tesla has provided in its quarterly shareholder letters. According to those reports, there should be around 17,000 Model S sedans in U.S. circulation, though the number could be lower depending on how many cars have been delivered abroad since the end of September. It's not clear how the NHTSA got to the 13,108 figure. Photo: IBTimes

Unlike other automakers, Tesla neither reports monthly sales figures nor provides highly specific numbers in its quarterly reports. For example, in the company’s third quarter, ending Sept. 30, it said it “finished the quarter with a record of slightly over 5,500 deliveries, including over 1,000 deliveries to European customers.”

It’s not clear how the NTHSA came to its highly specific estimate of 13,108 Model S sedans in the U.S. It could be that the figure is drawn from numbers provided by Tesla that have increased. Calls to the NHTSA to answer some questions about Tuesday’s announcement were not returned by the time this story went live.

Here’s how many Model S sedans Tesla said in its letters to shareholders it has delivered each quarter since the car entered the market in June 2012.

3Q 2013 – “Slightly over 5,500.”

2Q 2013 – “5,150 cars were delivered during the quarter.”

1Q 2013 – “We recognized 4,900 vehicles as revenue.”

4Q 2012 – “…we delivered approximately 2,400 Model S vehicles.”

3Q 2012 – “… we … delivered over 250 Model S sedans to our customers.”

otal: Approximately 18,200, including “over 1,000” sent to European customers.

Recently an unspecified number of cars probably went to fulfill orders in Hong Kong (where last month Tesla said it had about 300 preorders to fill), Japan and Australia. So based on Tesla’s vague numbers there should be around 17,000 Model S sedans rolling around in America today.