ELECTRIFICATION — cars burn as fast-tracking new technology hits the wall

Electrified of new car models already face the challenges of practicality, expense and the prospect of overloading fossil fuelled power grids. Now there’s a new problem quite literally blowing up in overzealous lawmakers’ faces.

Carmakers are fast-tracking new hybrid and electric cars into production as they scramble and scrummage to meet impossible emissions legislation. Now the same cars are being recalled by the tens of thousand.


Why? Well, they’re bursting into flames and burning out by the dozen.

It’s not just one model or a single manufacturer that’s affected. The scourge of exploding electric cars and hybrids has rapidly escalated over the past weeks. It appears to be spiralling into an international disaster.

Thousands of owners are stranded, tens of thousands of electrified cars recalled. And already reeling carmakers are being brought to their knees as they struggle to with the challenges at hand.

The problem centres around European and other legislators’ knee-jerk reactions to penalise carmakers. Draconian penalties apply should manufacturers not meet ever-tightening and seemingly increasingly improbable global new-model fleet emissions targets. Many countries, provinces and cities have already proposed total internal combustion bans from as soon as 2030, impossible as that may seem.

The likelihood of practically implementing those bans already seems far-fetched, considering many other factors. Now it’s all reiterated by this new scourge of burning hybrid and electric cars. Some may say that the carmakers are racing to sell more electric cars. The harsh reality however, is that carmakers are being forced to rush electrified cars to market. Most often without the necessary time to adequately develop or test new electrified technology.

This dangerous electrification firestorm is now significantly affecting different carmakers all around the world. The fires are also putting electric and hybrid car owners, their families and their property and the public at large at great risk.


Some electrified car fires started after crashes, others ignited while the cars were parked. Owners who lost their cars to fires, have lost their homes to the ensuing blazes too. Hyundai confirmed that one of its hybrids burned in a residential garage in Montreal. Other fires have also caused major damage to third party property. While there are not (yet) any victims, there have been injuries as a result of these e-car fires.

So far, in alphabetical order, BMW, Chevrolet, Ford and Hyundai have all issued recalls thanks to electrified car fires — cars that are bursting into flames for no apparent reason.

US safety regulators this month opened a probe into more than 77,000 electric Chevrolet Bolts following fires that appeared to start close to that car’s battery. Ford has delayed the US introduction of its Escape Plug In Hybrid Vehicle after fire concerns surfaced around the similar Kuga PHEV in Europe.

Ford issued a directive that Kuga PHEV owners should not charge or drive their cars and to contact their closest dealer as soon as possible.

Ford has now suspended European Kuga PHEV sales and delayed the launch of its US Escape while engineers race to trace and eliminate its fire bug. That has left the Motor Company unlikely to meet its maximum CO2 quota for 2020.

It now faces draconian fines and penalty thanks to its flagship CO2 savers sitting on the grass. The fiasco has also let to Ford seeking so-called ‘emissions pool partners’ in an effort to reduce the fines.

GM, Ford and Hyundai are still investigating the causes of the fires and possible solutions. BMW said that most of the cars affected had not yet been sold. They concede that the safety of their owners and the public in general, is their primary concern.

Hyundai has recalled about 77,000 electric Kona SUVs around the world following about a dozen battery-related fires. BMW has so far recalled over 27,000 plug-in hybrids and Ford has recalled roughly 20,500 Kugas in Europe. All three carmakers believe the issues to be related to manufacturing defects from their battery suppliers.


The Wall Street Journal reports that some electrification-friendly researchers compare electrified car fire statistics to those of gas-powered cars. Additionally, analysts say these battery-related car fires are relatively rare. They add that an uptick should be expected considering the growing number of battery-powered cars on the road.

Battery car critics however point out that the current electrified car fire risk scenario is still evolving. That the current spate of battery car blazes cannot yet be quantified and that the escalating rate of these fires is indeed extraordinary.

WSJ points out that all these fiery incidents illustrate the hurdles carmakers face with electric technology. Particularly in managing energy-dense and flammable lithium-ion batteries that have previously caused fires in laptops, tablets and other applications. Current generation electric lithium-ion car batteries are similar to those found in consumer electronics.

They store large amounts of energy relative to their size. But powering a car requires significantly greater battery capacity. Car battery demands are far higher and that creates a unique risk. A 2017 US National Health and Safety report suggested that as battery technology matures, safety risks may also increase, as manufacturers try to maximise their battery performance.


All of which poses the question as who would be responsible, should an electrified car explode on the road and incinerate your family? Would the carmaker be held liable? Or does that culpability lie on the hands of lawmakers so intent on seeing electrified cars taking over the world, no matter what the cost…? — Michele Lupini

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