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Has the recent spate of Electric Vehicle fire incidents hurt the booming EV sector?

Electric vehicles may be cost-effective and eco-friendly, but the incidents in the last few months may just act as a deterrent and put the brakes on the electric vehicle sector, which is projected to grow at a robust rate

By Himanshu Kala
New Update


An EV or an electric vehicle is either partially or fully powered on electric power. These vehicles have a low running cost and, therefore, are easy on people’s budgets, and they are also believed to be an environmentally viable option as they use little or no fossil fuels.

India’s electric vehicle industry is pegged to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 43.13 per cent from 2019 to 2030, according to the Research and Markets’ India Electric Vehicle Ecosystem Market Outlook 2030. The future of the electric vehicle industry looks promising in India, but the recent spate of incidents related to electric vehicles has fuelled much speculation that these vehicles may be budget-friendly but may not be entirely safe to use for the consumer.

Recently, Ola Electric recalled 1441 units of its electric two-wheelers after incidents of the vehicle catching fire were reported in the media. Though Ola has maintained that the company is taking serious cognisance of the March 26 fire incident in Pune and has launched an investigation to find out what caused the fire, insiders say that the company is already feeling the pinch following the recent incidents related to its electric two-wheeler line.

The Pune March 26 incident was related to a video of the company’s electric scooter catching fire. Following this incident, the government also ordered a probe into the case and deputed a team of experts to the site to investigate the matter. On the same day, another incident was reported in Vellore in Tamil Nadu, where a father and a daughter were killed in an Okinawa electric vehicle explosion.

In April, Okinawa also recalled 3215 units of its “Praise Pro” scooters. Okinawa was in the news after its dealership in Tamilnadu got engulfed in flames. The company, however, has maintained that the fire was due to an electric short circuit in the panel wiring in the building.

Several news reports had emerged in the last many months on EVs catching fire across the country. Recently, in Vijayawada, an EV battery blast killed one and injured two others. The deceased had bought a new electric two-wheeler and kept its battery for charging at night. After a few hours, the battery exploded and triggered a fire.

A few days ago, in Guwahati, an Ola customer claimed on social media that the company’s electric vehicles were faulty and that his son had to endure an accident because of the defective vehicle. According to the family, the fault in regenerative braking caused the accident as instead of slowing the scooter, the vehicle accelerated after braking. However, Ola was quick to rubbish these claims and said that its investigation had revealed that the rider was overspeeding throughout the night, and he braked in a panic, which resulted in him losing control of the bike.

Owing to the rising number of cases related to electric vehicles catching fire, the government of India recently constituted an Expert Committee to inquire into the past incidents and make recommendations on the remedial measures that need to be taken to put an end to such fire incidents and accidents. Union Minister for Road, Transport and Highways in India, Nitin Gadkari had stated earlier that the government would levy heavy penalties on defaulting companies if they are found negligent in implementing the quality-centric guidelines related to electric vehicles. The minister has said that the vehicles will also be recalled if they do not conform to safety standards.

So, why are Electric Vehicles catching fire?

Experts say that the lithium Ion batteries used in electric vehicles cannot withstand India’s severe summer temperatures if they are not adequately tested and configured to withhold high temperatures. Many of India’s EV manufacturers also rely on substandard Chinese batteries, resulting in rapid degradation of batteries, especially during the peak summer season. Though the government of India has released a manual that has detailed the standards for the batteries for electric vehicles, unfortunately, the government has still not put in place a framework to ensure that these guidelines are adhered to strictly by the manufacturers. Experts say that India’s varying climatic conditions warrant better testing of the batteries involved in the vehicles. The manufacturers should also adhere to stringent standard operating procedures at the vehicle production line’s conceptualisation, manufacturing, testing, and operational stage.

The recent fire incidents and accidents related to EVs have raised critical security concerns. Therefore, it is important for the EV sector manufacturers to pay heed to manufacturing, design, and safety protocols. The manufacturers of electric vehicles who, until a few months ago, were confident about the sector’s growth now fear that the latest spate of incidents could potentially dent their business as consumers have already started expressing concerns and worrying over the safety of the EVs.

The electric vehicles market has a promising future worldwide as several countries are trying to shift from traditional petrol and diesel driven vehicles to electric vehicles as they are environment friendly. If manufacturers use high-end technology related to batteries, much of the accidents can be averted. For instance, the Indian players must opt for the technology to actively cool the system automatically as soon as the battery is overcharged or has reached its optimum levels. Such simple measures could go a long way in making these vehicles consumer friendly.

Many companies in India like Ola, Hero Motocorp, Okinawa, and Pure EV, among others, are heavily invested in manufacturing electric vehicles. India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in a bid to promote the EV manufacturing sector, announced a battery swapping policy in the 2022 budget. To convert more consumers into electric vehicle users, the government has also offered subsidies in the past for purchasing electric vehicles. Though the government is stepping up and putting in place measures to boost the EV sector, many prospective buyers are hesitant to go for electric vehicles because of the growing safety concerns.

An EV is always a viable option for consumers because of the lesser operational cost. But to allay the fears of safety of the consumers, the government must not just put in place aggressive measures but also ensure that the policies brought in are strictly executed and adhered to by the manufacturers.

With the rise in petrol and diesel prices hurting the pockets of the common man, electric vehicles may just be the right solution. Electric vehicles may be cost-effective and eco-friendly, but the incidents in the last few months may just act as a deterrent and put the brakes on the electric vehicle sector, which is projected to grow at a robust rate.