You can bet your bottom dollar that today's announcement that Mitsubishi Motors is suspending the production and shipping of electric vehicles, using the lithium ion battery made by a joint-venture subsidiary, will receive enormous press coverage. It seems to be a case of one step forwards and two steps back for the electric vehicle industry, although Mitsubishi has taken a sensible approach to this potential problem after two lithium-ion batteries caught fire.
Which vehicles are affected?
The problem vehicles are the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and the plug-in hybrid model of the award-winning Outlander sports vehicle. The batteries were supplied via a joint-venture the company created by Yuasa, Mitsubishi Corporation and Mitsubishi Motors. Ironically, it was during a test of the Mitsubishi i-MiEV on site that the battery caught fire, although staff extinguished the flames very quickly.
While nobody was hurt in the incident it has done no favours to the reputation of Mitsubishi in the world of electric vehicles. Indeed many people have highlighted the fact that the same company was responsible for the faulty batteries in the Dreamliner airline scare just a short while back.
Safety always comes first
Even though today's move by Mitsubishi has obviously attracted significant press comment the fact is that the company has again erred on the side of caution and decided to halt production while the batteries are checked. This does the company no favours in the short to medium term but does give consumers confidence that any issues will be addressed very quickly and at no time will passenger or driver safety be compromise.
The second incident with the batteries occurred at a dealership in Kanagawa Prefecture on 21 March 2013 when a recharging process began to give up a "bad smell" from the battery. Upon further investigation the evaporation of the organic electrolyte fluid within the battery led to a partial meltdown of the unit. It will be interesting to see how long it takes Mitsubishi to get to the bottom of the problem and how long before production of its electric vehicles is back in order.
Has this damaged the industry?
There's no doubt that in the short term these issues will attract the attention of many journalists around the world, some of whom seem to have a vendetta against the electric car industry. Within a few months we will look back on this as just another stepping stone towards the mass production of electric vehicles but it does highlight the difference between traditional cars and electric powered cars.
Quote from ElectricForum.com : "Mitsubishi Motors has suspended the production and shipping of some electric vehicles using a specific type of lithium ion battery. The move comes after two lithium-ion batteries caught fire during charghing - situations which the company is investigating further."
If Mitsubishi, for example, had attempted to keep the issue in-house and decided against halting production then this could have potentially brought down the electric car industry. The fact that companies have been very upfront about any issues along the way will see them in good stead in the longer term even if short-term consumer concerns grow again.
In some ways it seems to be one step forwards and two steps back with regards to the electric car industry but in reality these are teething problems along the road to success. If you follow the successful path of the gasoline/petrol car industry you will find a number of similar issues along the way which have been all but forgotten now that they have been embraced by the wider public.