Saturday, September 30, 2023

Living with EV fire is as normal as ICE fire


EV fires are not going anywhere and with the increasing size of the electric vehicle fleet, such cases too would see a cumulative rise in numbers. This may sound disheartening but EV fires are as normal as petrol or diesel vehicle fires.

India witnessed more than two dozen EV fire incidents when electric scooters were burnt to ashes. In some cases, people have died as well. Beginning with a couple of Pure EV scooters in September 2021, EV fire incidents have become more commonplace across the country. Electric vehicles from brands like Okinawa, Ampere and Hero Electric have witnessed fire incidents. The latest addition to the list of EV fire incidents is the Tata Nexon EV fire in Mumbai, the first electric car fire incident in India. These EV fire cases since September have caused much uproar across the country, denting the consumer sentiment and prompting the government to swing into action to investigate and mandate some regulations.

The latest incident of Tata Motors EV catching fire caused quite a damage to the sentiment of the potential EV consumers. Tata Motors being at the forefront of the Indian electric car market, the incident received major attention. It came as a surprise for many, forcing the consumers and industry to think differently. However, if we delve deeper and research a bit on the internet, globally several other EV manufacturers such as Tesla, General Motors and Hyundai have faced similar instances when their electric cars caught fire. While EV fires are scary, they are similar to internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle fires. It may sound disheartening, but EV fires are as normal as petrol or diesel vehicle fires.

Why Tata EV fire made so much uproar?

Tata Motors is based at the pole position of the Indian electric car market with around 96% share. Tata Nexon EV contributes the lion’s share in that chunk. Tata has sold more than 30,000 units of Nexon EV so far and they have cumulatively clocked over 100 million km distance. With the fast pace of sales of this electric SUV, it is a bothersome issue for the existing Nexon EV owners and potential buyers as well. Also, it is a headache for the industry stakeholders, government and regulatory authorities as well.

Tata Nexon EV is the car that helped the automaker to steal the early-mover advantage from Mahindra and establish its dominance in the segment. Also, the Nexon EV played a significantly important role in establishing Tata’s dominance in the overall SUV segment of the country’s passenger vehicle market.

Tata Motors is not any EV startup but a well-established automaker with a prominent market holding in India. Being such a major player in the auto industry, Tata Motors is supposed to know everything that is required to be known about manufacturing electric vehicles. These facts have made many worried about the future prospect of electric vehicles at large in India.

The carmaker promised a detailed investigation into the Nexon EV fire incident to ascertain the facts. It claimed that the OEM will reveal detailed findings of the investigation of the EV fire incident. The government also took action and mandated a fresh investigation into the EV fire case.

Point of worry

The Indian electric vehicle market is dominated by EV startups. In the last five years, several electric two-wheeler and three-wheeler startups have mushroomed across the country. There are majorly two approaches taken by these startups to penetrate the market and increase market share.

While only a few companies like Ather Energy, Revolt Intellicorp, and Hero Electric have invested in proper R&D; product development; the majority of the EV startups simply have taken the import-assemble-sell strategy. They have been importing various parts at a cheap cost from China, assembling the vehicles in India and selling those products as made-in-India models. This dubious strategy may pave the path for quick success and substantial sales volume but won’t help the Indian EV ecosystem to grow at a large scale in long term.

While these EV startups are portraying their products as flagbearers of the Aatmanirbhar Bharat or the Self-reliant India campaign, they are actually doing absolutely nothing to improve the Indian EV ecosystem in long term. Also, there is nothing to be self-reliant in their business mechanism. The point of worry lies in this business model. As these companies are not investing in R&D and long-term product development, the chance of mechanical errors in their products remains significantly higher, as they don’t go through the trial-error method. The battery management system (BMS) and thermal management system (TMS) are not tested adequately for preventing such mishaps.

In the recent EV fire incidents, experts blamed the poor quality of lithium-ion cells that were imported from China by the EV startups. They also blamed the lack of efficient thermal management systems and poor testing and validation practices by the EV startups.

Another point of worry was that the government was initially slow to act, as it didn’t realise the extent of the problem. Even though an electric vehicle can catch fire, the chance becomes higher in sub-standard quality products that come sans any proper R&D. If we see the products that were involved in the recent EV fire incidents, this becomes evident. Except for a few majorities of those scooters are simply import-assemble category products. Despite such a rising number of EV fire incidents, the concerned manufacturers are not exactly paying any significant attention to the issue, which is another point of worry.

Need of the hour

  • Strict regulation to reduce future EV fires.
  • BIS performance standards for EV batteries.
  • Strict implementation of AIS 156 regulations.
  • Increased investment in R&D for battery cells, BMS, and TMS.
  • Cut down on the import of cells from China as much as possible.

EV fire is as normal as an ICE vehicle fire

EV fires are as normal as internal combustion engine-powered vehicle fires. There is no need to these easy but there is no need to panic as well. Technically, ICE vehicles are more prone to catching fire considering the fact that they are run by highly flammable fuels like petrol or diesel. Even CNG or Auto LPG vehicles too are highly prone to fire incidents. Apart from that ICE vehicles come with thousands of moving parts, which means the chance of fire is higher in those vehicles compared to EVs which come with only a few moving parts.

While only slight damage or error can cause a fire in an ICE vehicle, EV fires are majorly caused by faulty battery management systems or thermal management systems. Improvement in these modules and a few precautionary moves can prevent such fire incidents in major cases.

The number of EV fires being reported lately is rising, because the number of electric vehicles in the county is rising. Hence, EV fire incidents are absolutely proportional and there is nothing to be panicked about or influenced by the notion that electric vehicles are prone to fire. In Ola CEO Bhavish Agarwal’s words, “EV fires will happen, happen in all global products too. EV fires are much less frequent than ICE fires.”

Also Read: Fire on ICE and electric vehicles

Team AFT
Team AFT
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