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They’re sparking up in China

Picture this – you’ve just pulled into work, park the ride, grab your coffee, sweater, apple or whatever whets your appetite and head to the elevators. You hit your floor, exit, arrive at your office and plop down for another productive day. Your company is looking out for you, so they’ve installed monitors that stream live monitoring of the garage where you park every day. You have a new Tesla after all and keeping an eye on that baby is number one priority. In between shifting your attention from your computer screen to the monitoring screen, and vice-versa, you suddenly see smoke.

Good grief, there’s smoke emanating from the sides of your gorgeous white Tesla and then … POW! The whole screen goes blank and there’s no mistake about it – your car just blew up. Sound terrifying? You bet, and for the unfortunate owner of said white Tesla in China, a nasty reality.

Electric vehicles (EVs) catching fire is not an isolated incident in China. As of March 18th, there have been 3 incidents, minivans specifically, that have caught fire while charging. The result has been a big boom and that’s troubling. In these 3 incidents BJEV was the car company, China’s largest electric vehicle battery manufacturer. So big that the company alone moved 150,000 EVs within the Asian giant last year. Some pundits blame the government, accusing them of moving too fast towards an electric future which is resulting in sloppy craftsmanship, lax oversight, and the eventual faulty product.   

Chinese government policy has long favored those companies that can demonstrate increased battery performance. The longer they run, the greater the subsidy. This measure has drawn criticism because to last a long time (as a battery), said battery must have high energy density. These are batteries that are lighter in weight as well, but also highly reactive. Energy-rich metals like lithium that are used to fabricate batteries are characterized by their reactive nature which does not bode well when resisting potential fires and subsequent explosions. While this is not necessarily the case in other countries, it does shine a light on some nasty potential issues. Tesla sent a team to Shanghai to look at the issue last week and has been actively collaborating with their competitor, NIO Inc., which has also suffered a similar fate.

An entity known as the State Administration for Market Regulation has emerged, a sort of quasi watch-dog agency which is keeping a keen eye on exploding EVs. An EV that was manufactured by revered Chinese billionaire Li Shufu also blew up last September. Perhaps high-flying figures like these are what’s needed to keep these cars from sparking up. It’s not a pretty scene.  

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