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.

Battery Fires in Electric Cars Move Authorities to Check on Technology


Federal safety regulators announced an inquiry on lithium ion battery technology because of a recent incident where a Chevrolet Volt ignited during a crash test.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that it is coordinating with all other automakers to develop post crash procedures to ensure the safety of passengers in electric vehicles as well as guiding emergency personnel on the proper protocols when electric cars figure in a car crash.

General Motors defended its Chevy Volt saying it is a safe car and the fire could not have happened if the proper protocols for battery deactivation have been observed when the crash occurred. The Volt is a plug-in hybrid and the design was to be an electric car with a back up gasoline engine.

In response, the NHTSA said that they had no reason to determine that the GM vehicle is considered as unsafe. The news of the fire and the subsequent investigation affected GM shares in the bourse, pulling the value down by as much as 3 percent during last Friday’s trading.

This reaction to the touted battery fire shows the issues that many automakers, regulators and emergency personnel must understand as the numbers of this kind of vehicle design increases in the country’s roadways. While the numbers of these kinds of cars are still low for now, their relative newness and any perceived and actual problems can affect how consumers and future investors would view them. This is in light of the massive funding put into by the US government for the promotion of these clean, green and alternative fuel car technologies.

There is a real danger in electric shock with electric cars. In the Chevy Volt, the battery is a 400-pound behemoth and is designed in a T-shaped configuration under the middle of the car and between the back seats. This is very different from the gas powered vehicle battery fit under the hood, making the electric car design much more susceptible to endanger the passengers when the vehicle figures in an accident.

The most common battery composition for electric cars nowadays is the lithium ion battery. This is the same battery that is used in laptops, mobile phones and other rechargeable devices. This battery design is much lighter and smaller with more electrical energy storable compared to the first generation batteries composed of nickel-metal hydride components.

In a statement issued by the NHTSA, the agency believes that the Volt or any other electric vehicle are at a greater risk of fire than gasoline powered vehicles. It added, “In fact, all vehicles – both electric and gasoline powered – have some risk of fire in the event of a serious crash.”

The Guide to Electric Vehicles and Hybrids

Pay Per Mile Taxation
Pay Per Mile Taxation

With the greater push of governments and corporations in going green, one of the markets that is making great strides is the electric vehicle production and use. Many of the big automakers are now creating their own electric vehicle lines in anticipation of the increasing demand from environmentally conscious car buyers.

The very first electric car owners have been called “first adopters” often purchasing their electric car for the prestige and respect the green car provides. As many states are now creating programs designed to promote environmental awareness and action, common folk need to be apprised of the fine print regarding electric car ownership.

  • Safety. Because the design of tires determine the grip and this grip and friction would require greater power to move the vehicle. For the sake of extending the battery life of an electric car, many automakers have designed tires with lesser gripping power on the road. This helps in increasing the efficiency of the vehicle with regards to range but poses a safety issue as the car has lesser grip on the road when traveling.
  • Cost. Most hybrid models currently in the market cost between $15,000 and $20,000 more than an internal combustion vehicle of the same size. Purely electric vehicles cost even more compared to fuel fossil powered cars. This cost is also translated to the available space to the driver and passengers. In hybrids and pure EVs, the space is conserved for the purpose of efficiency and range for the heavier the vehicle, the more power is needed to operate it, thus limiting the range and mobility of the car.
  • Resale. Because of the cost of EVs and hybrids, recovering their value for the purchase cost takes longer. In conventional cars, the owner can recoup their investment in terms of use plus resale value within five years. EVs on the other hand, the owner needs between seven and ten years for the owner to recoup their investment. Owing to the relative newness of the EV, there is little or no resale market to speak of, because of the problems with battery efficiency over time.
  • Viability. As previously stated, it would take so much more to replace conventional cars because of the weight to power ration fossil fuel driven vehicles provide as against EVs and hybrids. An internal combustion engine can provide much more power to the weight of the engine and fuel compared to the electric vehicle as battery packs create more weight that needs to be carried by the power generated by the electric motor or hybrid powertrain. Charging time also is a drawback as conventional cars would require minutes to get going again at full capacity unlike EVs and hybrids that require quite a number of hours to recharge.
  • Environmental Impact. Will the use of EVs lessen the volume of pollutants dumped into the environment? The quandary is while there would be lesser pollution from cars, the greater volume of the pollution would be produced by the electric generation plants that still rely heavily on fossil fuels for operation. There have been studies done which criticize the environmental improvement theory, as electric vehicles, from its manufacture and use, would consume more energy compared to conventional vehicles.

These are but some of the criticisms on electric car manufacture. While the electric car market is still in its infancy, the above factors may need to be reviewed in order that these EVs can eventually replace conventional vehicles on the road to the future.