CHENNAI: A spate of accidents involving electric vehicles (EV) has put stakeholders, including buyers and manufacturers on high alert. Last week, in the very first instance of a voluntary recall by an EV manufacturer in India, a Rajasthan based EV maker recalled as many as 3,215 units of its e-scooter. The recall was being done in order to fix battery related issues pertaining to the EV, and in the aftermath of the death of a father-daughter duo in Vellore, whose scooter, made by the same company, had exploded while recharging its battery at home.
At that time, the company had responded by saying that the accident was caused by a short circuit due to negligence in charging the vehicle. But even before the company could heave a sigh of relief from the impact of the first tragedy, an entire showroom of its e-scooters in Tamil Nadu was gutted in an EV-related fire accident. This was the sixth such EV-related fire accident that has been reported across India in the past few months, a development that has certainly impacted the image of the industry in a significant way. The CEO of Niti Aayog, Amitabh Kant had recently invoked the example of global automakers recalling vehicles on account of fire risks, as an example of confidence building. He went on to urge EV makers to voluntarily recall batches of vehicles that were involved in accidents.
But the question on everyone’s mind is what causes such mishaps and can they be prevented? According to veterans in the automobile space, EVs mostly catch fire due to three reasons: poor quality of lithium cells, cell leakage inside the battery, and a mismatch between parameters of the battery controller and the motor, also known as the powertrain. Add one more variable, the tropical climate of India, and you have a sure shot recipe for disaster in the absence of proper checks. A call for standardisation has also come via the NITI Aayog Chief who had drawn attention to how the manufacturing of (battery) cells is not regulated in the country, while recommending the private sector to work on building a strong partnership between the battery manufacturing and battery management verticals.
Experts believe that a significant portion of the blame could be placed at the doors of aspects such as quality control and rigorous testing. Experts have called out the breathless manner in which a few start-ups working in the EV space have not taken the fundamentals of mobility seriously and embarked upon business models with an aim to secure quick finding and quicker carbon credits.
While it is not the intent of this piece to pick holes in the nation’s EV narrative, it must be remembered that India has miles to go as far as infrastructure and readiness for EVs are concerned. It will be myopic to believe that transitioning from the 150-year-old Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) technology to the relatively new electric vehicles will be an overnight journey. Short-changing customers will not work if India plans to pitch itself as a model nation as far as going green is concerned.