Battery fires, brake failure: Problems plaguing electric vehicles as China toughens safety laws

By Jarryd Neves, motoring correspondent

Issues facing electric vehicle owners in China have prompted a call for increased safety checks for electric and new-energy vehicles, reports Bloomberg. The countrys Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has issued draft guidelines that electric and new energy car makers must adhere to.

Among the changes, the manufacturers will be required to “strengthen safety monitoring and management systems” and also minimise and improve defects in the products, from design to “testing to upstream supply chains.”

 Furthermore, Bloomberg reports under these drafted changes, relevant vehicle makers will have to set up a 24-hour response system for major accidents involving their cars. “Companies whose cars are involved in accidents or defy regular checks may face penalties including being removed from government subsidies or production suspensions.”

A number of issues such as battery fires and brake failure have started to play into the purchasing decisions of would-be customers. Earlier this year, a Tesla driver climbed atop one of the companys models at the Shanghai auto show, shouting that she had nearly died because of brake failure (watch the Bloomberg video below).

Tesla, as a driving force in the electric vehicle sphere, is also at the cutting edge of vehicle technology. An example of this is its controversial Autopilot system. Using ultrasonic sensors and cameras, the technology enables Autopilot to essentially drive itself. The manufacturer does stress, however, that it is a hands-on driver assistance system and is in no way intended to take the duty of driving (and the attention it requires) away from the person at the helm.

Since 2018, at least 11 accidents involving Autopilot have been reported in the USA since 2018, with 17 injuries and one death recorded. According to research done by the USAs National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), almost all the incidents took place after dark and all involved a first-responder scene (flashing lights, traffic cones, flares).

Another issue affecting not just Tesla, but all electric cars, is the subject of battery fires. In lieu of a combustion engine, electric vehicles store their energy in batteries, mostly of the lithium-ion variety.

When the unfortunate instance of a battery fire presents itself, most times it is often caused by one of two things. The first is a motor vehicle accident. In some severe collisions, the battery pack can be badly damaged, there is a short in the pack and it sets the individual cells alight. Aside from the damage to property, potential loss of life and the environmental impacts, electric vehicle car fires are tougher to extinguish. Often, emergency services arrive at the scene of an accident and cannot extinguish the flames.

Across the world, as we draw nearer to fully electric transport, first responders are preparing to fight (watch below) a hazard that was never on their radar.

Although its not only car accidents that can trigger a fire in electric vehicles. Recently, General Motors (GM) had to issue a recall for its Bolt electric vehicle. In a message on Chevrolet’s website, the automotive giant stated that:

As part of GM’s commitment to safety, experts from GM and LG have identified the simultaneous presence of two rare manufacturing defects in the same battery cell as the root cause of battery fires in certain Chevrolet Bolt EVs. As a result, GM will be conducting a recall of Bolt EVs (2017—2022) and Bolt EUVs (2022) to address the risk of battery fires in these vehicles.

General Motors has, so far, identified just under 70,000 vehicles that may be affected by the faulty battery modules. As the Wall Street Journal reports, American GM has been telling Bolt owners to  “move their Bolt outside immediately after charging, not park it inside overnight and to leave ample distance from other cars inside parking garages.

Chinas ever-stricter regulations for vehicles may just see global automakers implement more stringent quality control and testing for various components. It is important to remember that while electric cars do receive flack for the issues that plague them, conventionally powered vehicles are also prone to design faults and recalls.

Honda was recently hit with a wide spread recall. Vehicles equipped with Takata-sourced airbag systems led to one of the largest automotive recalls in history. Faulty airbag inflators were rupturing, causing metal fragments to fly through the vehicle cabin. According to Reuters, the defect has claimed at least 28 lives.

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