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The Week in Tesla News: Model S Fire Probe, Tax Credits Wane, Car-aoke Coming

Tesla Model 3

The goings-on of the Tesla world took a more serious turn this week, as the automaker announced what caused a Model S to catch fire in Shanghai and the federal tax credit for Tesla buyers was slashed in half again. On a lighter note, rolling out in the next software update are some new features for Sketchpad, which lets you doodle in your car, and Elon Musk teased musical entertainment for your touchscreen.

Related: Which Cars Have Self-Driving Features for 2019?

Leave it to Tesla to keep us on our toes. Read on for our weekly roundup of all the latest news on the headline-grabbing luxury electric automaker.

Cause for Combustion

In April, a parked Model S spontaneously caught fire in an underground garage in Shanghai. Tesla announced this week that the fire was caused by the failure of a single battery module in the front of the vehicle. The automaker made the statement via the Chinese social media platform Weibo, saying that a joint team examined the battery, software, manufacturing information and vehicle history following the fire and determined that there were no system defects.

Meanwhile, three Tesla fires are under investigation in the U.S. — one that killed the driver of a Model S in Florida, another that occurred in West Hollywood, Calif., and a third blaze that arose following a fatal crash on a freeway in Mountain View, Calif.

In May, the company issued an over-the-air software update for Model S and Model X vehicles, revising their batteries’ charge and thermal settings. Tesla maintains that its vehicles catch fire less often than gas-powered cars.

Tax Credit Slashed

2018 Tesla Model X

As of July 1, the federal tax credit for Tesla buyers is now $1,875 and dropping.

Buyers of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids are eligible for a $7,500 tax credit until the manufacturer of that vehicle has sold 200,000 cars in the U.S. At that point, the credit starts phasing out. Tesla was the first automaker to reach that limit. On Jan. 1, the credit dropped to $3,750; this month, that number was cut in half, and by the beginning of 2020, it will disappear altogether.

The concern is that most of these tax credits went to buyers of the luxury Model S and Model X, both of which can cost upwards of $100,000 with options. The Model 3 starts at $35,000 and is marketed to be the more affordable Tesla. With the tax credit drying up, however, that’s becoming less and less the case.

When the credit amount was cut in January, Tesla took a pretty big first-quarter sales hit. It’s yet to be seen how Tesla sales may be affected with this latest reduction.

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Tesla-tainment

Tesla Sketchpad

Sometimes, it seems like Tesla is not so much manufacturing cars as they are creating entertainment systems on wheels. (After all, Elon Musk did ask, “What can we do to make the car the most fun possible?”) Last week, your car became an arcade. This week, it’s an art studio.

The automaker announced via Twitter that the next software update will bring new features to Sketchpad, an MS Paint-like app available on a Tesla’s center touchscreen. Updates will include a color picker with saturation adjustment and a multiple-undo feature, as requested on Twitter by Goro Fujita. Fujita also asked for animation support, and Musk simply replied “OK.”

It’s not just doodling. Musk tweeted that there will also be a “Fun, little music tool” coming in a later update, as well as a long-awaited in-car karaoke system. As the autonomous future nears us, perhaps this is just a taste of what our cars will become — less and less about driving and more and more about keeping us occupied while riding along with nothing much else to do.

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