Shenzhen electric taxi may have caught fire due to leaking battery

Posted: 06/8/2012 11:11 am

A few weeks ago, we told you about three Shenzhen residents who were killed when their electric taxi was struck by a speeding Nissan GT-R. Within seconds of the impact, the taxi caught fire, incinerating the driver and his two female passengers. The accident raised questions over the safety of Shenzhen’s electric taxis, which are manufactured by locally-based BYD. According to a report in Reuters, it now appears that the fire may have been caused by a leaky battery.

Stella Li, Senior Vice President of BYD, said there is a “big chance” that liquid electrolyte, one of the three main battery components, may have leaked after the crash and caught fire. Although police are still investigating the accident, evidence of a faulty battery would be a huge blow to BYD. On the first day of trading following the accident, the Warren Buffett-backed company watched as its stock fell to a seven-month low. And while BYD has already sold close to 500 e6 electric cars throughout China, more bad news regarding the safety of its batteries could be disastrous not only to BYD, but to the future of the electric car business in general.

While Li admits a leaky battery may have caused the fire, she maintains that BYD’s batteries are inherently safe: “No car company could design an electric car or a gasoline-fueled car that could withstand a 180-kph crash, especially from being slammed from the backside” Li said. Whether or not that is true, according to a chief engineer at Toyota, the damage has already been done: “I am not sure if calm and measured attitudes toward electric cars would prevail in the market… It worries me.” Whether the Chinese market will truly take to electric vehicles remains to be seen; needless to say, however, restoring faith will not be easy.