Taxi Fire Details Released by BYD


BYD, the top manufacturer of electric vehicles in China, have released the details of the crash and fire that destroyed an electric taxi, killing its three occupants in southern China last Sunday. According to the press release, any vehicle, even a gasoline powered vehicle, would have met the same fate because of the impact of the crash.

The Chinese media reported that the fire had caused shockwaves throughout the Internet in China as well as financial markets on electric cars as it revived fire safety controls for this vehicle platform.

The crash had involved a BYD e6 battery powered electric car, which was hit from the rear by a Nissan GT-R sports car. According to police reports obtained by BYD, the sports car was racing at the speed of 180 kilometers or 112 miles per hour when it rear ended the electric car from behind. As a result, the e6 spun across three lanes of traffic and then slammed into a tree, slicing the vehicle into two, from the rear bumper to the rear seats.

This theory of the crash was supported by police photos released by BYD and it supported the company’s version of the crash. The photo of the crash site showed fifteen cms or six inches in diameter without any sign of a guard rail. The Nissan for its part, hit another car on the road, causing the hit car to roll over and stopping the sports car by the side of the road.

Other reports said that driver of the Nissan was drunk and was with three women at the time. The occupants of the Nissan fled and were unhurt. The driver eventually surrendered to police authorities, admitting responsibility for the accident. There was some doubt as to the identity of the individual, as he did not seem to have been involved in the crash and may just be a fall guy for the real culprit.

According to Paul Lin, Marketing Director and Chief Spokesperson of BYD, the battery packs of the e6 are located under the rear seats and added, “We don’t know what happened – the battery pack burned or the high voltage gear burned or the fabric was lit or maybe some other reason.”

As of the moment, the police authorities have not yet handed the crash vehicle over to the company’s inspectors, thus there is still no determination as to the cause of the fire. It is also not been confirmed if the three occupants of the electric taxi had perished in the fire or died in the crash. China has been known not to be a seat belt safety advocate, thus leading many to conclude that the occupants have died in the crash.

Lin further added that no car could have withstood the impact and quipped, “Maybe a tank, maybe a truck could survive it.”

As a result of the statement, BYD’s shares went up 5.5 percent in the Hong Kong Index, closing at HK$16.08 or nearly US$2.07 after a slump of 5.9 percent last Monday following reports of the incident in Chinese media.

Fisker Karma Blamed for Home Fire


According to unofficial reports from the Fort Bend County Texas Fire Department, an unplugged Fisker Karma sedan had caused a fire in a home in the area resulting in about U.S.$100,000 structural damage costs.

The photos from the fire scene showed that the electric vehicle was almost consumed by the fire but the lithium ion battery pack remained intact. While the fire investigators have already identified the cause of the blaze, the investigation continues on the full extent of the fire.

According to Chief Fire Investigator Robert Baker, “Yes, the Karma was the origin of the fire but what exactly caused that, we don’t know at this time.” He further related that the driver arrived home riding the Fisker. He pulled into the garage and about three minutes later, the car was up in flames. The electric vehicle was not plugged in when the car was engulfed in flames, but the Karma battery remained intact. The owner related that right before the fire, there was a smell of burning rubber in the vehicle.

Baker further added, “The car was brand-new. He still had paper tags on it, so it was sixty days old at most.” It was later found that this particular Karma was a post-recall vehicle bought back in April.

The resulting damage to the garage was assessed as substantial, which spread to the second floor of the home. No injuries resulted from the incident and the home was apparently new, with the owner just moving into the residence. The damage was estimated at about U.S.$100,000, without the cost of the two other vehicles damaged in the garage which were a Mercedes Benz SUV and an Acura NSX.

The investigator quipped, “This looks just like golf cart fires we have down here.” He was referring to the extent of the fifty or so golf cart fires this suburban Houston area experiences annually.

He did observe that the fire scene was crawling with about fifteen engineers from the company finding the cause of the fire in the Karma.  The official statement of Fisker Automotive is as follows:

Last week, Fisker Automotive was made aware of a garage fire involving three vehicles, including a Karma sedan, that were parked at a newly-constructed residence in Sugar Land, Texas. There were no injuries.

There are conflicting reports and uncertainty surrounding this particular incident. The cause of the fire is not yet known and is being investigated.

We have not yet seen any written report form the Fort Bend fire department and believe that their investigation is continuing. As of now, multiple insurance investigators are involved, and we have not ruled out possible fraud or malicious intent. We are aware that fireworks were found in the garage in or around the vehicles. Also, an electrical panel located in the garage next to the vehicles is also being examined by the investigators as well as fire department officials. Based on initial observations and inspections, the Karma's lithium ion battery pack was not being charged at the time and is still intact and does not appear to have been a contributing factor in this incident.

Fisker will continue to participate fully in the investigation but will not be commenting further until all the facts are established.

Is this Karma or what?

NHTSA Closes Volt Investigation


Last Friday, federal safety regulators have formally closed their investigation on the fires that occurred with the Chevrolet Volt. The report found no evidence of a defect and the plug-in vehicles posed no greater fire risk as any other vehicle on the street meeting an accident.

Despite the favorable results, the main problem would be rebuilding consumer confidence in the vehicle. In the larger picture, the safety concerns regarding the reliability of electric vehicles can hurt the advancement of electric cars in the automotive market. According to many industry experts, while the fires were unfortunate, it was good it occurred within testing facilities but these create chilling effect to the interest of the general public to accept new technologies.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also released for the first time photos relating to the aftermath of the Volt catching fire last June. This fire occurred in a remote area near Burlington, Wisconsin and was discovered after it had burned itself out. Also included in the release are videos as to the November testing, where it showed a firefighter fighting flames in a wooden shed where two Volt battery packs were placed under observation.

The two month long investigation undertaken by the NHTSA found that “no discernible defect trend exists”. It also added that the modifications proposed by General Motors are more than sufficient to reduce the possibility of a fire occurring during an accident.

The agency further added, “Based on the available data, NHTSA does not believe that Chevy Volts or other electric vehicles pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline powered vehicles. Generally, all vehicles have some risk of fire in the event of a serious crash.”

The final safety report from the federal agency on the Volt investigation further disclosed the fire on a third battery pack last December 12, six days after the battery was exposed to coolant from the Volt’s liquid cooling system. This pack was one of the six arrays tested to study the conditions that resulted in the June fire. This December fire had consumed a Volt and three other vehicles that were also located nearby in the testing facility.

For its part, General Motors issued a statement, “NHTSA’s decision to close their investigation is consistent with the results of our internal testing and assessment. The voluntary action that GM is taking is intended to make a safe vehicle even safer.”

Another issue is now brewing on the horizon regarding the fires to the Volt. GM’s CEO, Daniel F. Akerson is set to testify before a House subcommittee hearing into why the NHTSA waited until November to disclose the June fire. Speculation has been growing that the delay in the announcement was due to pressure from the Obama administration to hide the fires because the government owns 26 percent of the carmaker.

GM Upgrades Chevrolet Volt


Last Thursday, General Motors announced that structural changes to its electric vehicle flagship, the plug in electric Chevrolet Volt. The changes would involve upgrades to the steel structure and the liquid cooling surrounding the battery array as a response to issues regarding the risk of catching fire after a crash.

Company officials said that they have given the blueprints for the upgrades to federal safety regulators who have been focused on investigations as to fire risks involved with the Volt. The company is optimistic as to the action would be able to satisfy the government’s safety concerns as to the previous issues with the battery array.

In response, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in a statement on its website responded that the changes “should address the issue” but the investigation remained open.

For its part, the changes are defined by GM as voluntary “enhancements” and reiterated that neither the car nor the battery would be recalled. All that needed to be done to qualify would be Volt owners to take their cars to the dealership, similar to a formal recall.

Marry Barra, GM’s Senior Vice President for Global Product Development said through a conference call, “We are choosing to go the extra mile to ensure our customers’ peace of mind.” She added that the changes would make the Volt “even safer because it is already safe.”

Last June, a Volt caught fire three weeks after crash tests conducted by the government damaged the battery and cooling system. A second fire occurred after further testing last November that triggered the federal investigation by the NHTSA.

Last Thursday, the carmaker had undertaken four crash tests of Volts with the upgraded cooling and structure system resulting in no intrusions into the battery array and no coolant leakage. These were the two factors determined by the NHTSA as the causes of the Volt fires. For its part, the NHTSA said that it had subjected a modified Volt to the same tests that lead to the original fire. It found no signs of the damage that was the original cause of the fire.

In a statement, the NHTSA said, “The results of that crash test showed no intrusion into the vehicle’s battery compartment and no coolant leakage was apparent. The preliminary results of the crash test indicate the remedy proposed by General Motors today should address the issue of battery intrusion.”

For its part, the NHTSA would continue to monitor the car but expected that the investigation would be concluded in the next few weeks. It said that its testing showed that there is no risk of fires if the battery pack was not damaged or had no coolant leaks.

As of date, GM had sold nearly 8,000 Volts since the car was introduced in 2010. The Volt is plug-in hybrid that travels 35 miles on battery power before running the gasoline engine.

The Issues On Battery Encasement Safety Continues

Electric car made from batteries
Electric car made from batteries

The recent tsunami disaster in Japan has not only brought adversity to the Land of the Rising Sun, but it has also provided insight into one of the brightest spots in the car industry today, Nissan’s all-electric Leaf.

Nearly two dozen Leafs were caught in the tsunami wave that devastated the region after the earthquake. The electric cars were recovered and the observations gleaned have provided Nissan a distinct advantage in the safety of their Leaf. Not a single one of the cars caught fire as their batteries remained intact, encased in an airtight steel exoskeleton. Aside from this, the battery array was surrounded by two more layers of protection to keep the 660 lbs battery array completely safe even in disaster situations.

According to Bob Yakushi, Director of Product Safety at Nissan North America, “Considering how they were tossed around and crushed, we think that is a very good indication of the safety performance of that vehicle.”

This design decision of encasing the battery pack of the Nissan Leaf in steel may be the reason why federal investigators are not as keen on investigating post crash fire risks in the Leaf as compared to the Chevrolet Volt. The Volt’s battery array is placed on a T-shaped tray with a plastic cover.

This design has been much criticized after batteries from the Volt used in crash tests caught fire under the auspices of the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration. This has lead to a formal investigation as to the safety of the Volt and defects are now being scrutinized.

The Leaf though was not spared the inquiry as the Volt did. For its part, the NHTSA said that the Leaf and other electric vehicles “had not raised safety concerns about other vehicles other than the Chevy Volt.”

The reason for such design, according to a spokesperson from GM, Robert D. Peterson, was to use a cover that did not conduct electricity, hence the choice of a plastic cover. Other carmakers though have taken Nissan’s lead in putting a steel structure around the batteries, such as Ford with its Focus electric compact car version. This decision for the Focus though was made long before the safety issues with the Volt were known to the public.

The Leaf also does not have a liquid cooling system, which the Volt has. According to Nissan, laminated circuitry reduced the heat produced in the batter array. The Focus and the Tesla Roadster have liquid cooling systems for their batteries. Tesla for its part though has enclosed each battery pack’s cells in steel for protection and heat dissipation purposes.