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How safe are India's electric scooters?

By Shine Jacob & Shally Seth Mohile
March 31, 2022 13:39 IST
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The government-appointed expert committee, which probes incidents of Ola Electric’s S1 Pro and Okinawa vehicles catching fires, has added the latest case of fire involving PureEV electric scooter to its investigation, a senior government official told Business Standard.

Ola electric

Photograph: Kind courtesy olaelectric/Instagram

“A team comprising experts from Indian Institute of Science (IISC) and Centre for Fire, Explosive and Environment Safety (CFEES) are investigating the cases.

"As soon as the report is submitted, we shall take appropriate action,” said Giridhar Aramane, secretary at the ministry of road transport and highways.

 

Videos of a PureEV electric scooter model engulfed in flames in Chennai went viral on social media Tuesday night.

It was the fourth such incident involving e-scooters within a week, putting in doubt the safety of battery-operated two-wheelers.

It wasn’t a one-off for the Hyderabad-based PureEV.

In September 2021, two of its EPluto 7G models caught fire. A company statement on the latest mishap indicated the fire was caused by “Thermal Runaway scenario”, where a battery’s cells reach a critical temperature that causes them to spontaneously combust.

“We are investigating the incident and will do a thorough assessment.

"We adhere to the highest safety standards through rigorous internal testing as well as special phase change materials being implemented in our battery packs to avoid rapid fire/blast kind of scenarios,” the company said about the fire at Mathur toll plaza at Manjampakkam area in north Chennai.

The Okinawa EV fire in Vellore on Saturday killed a man and his 13-year-old daughter.

There were no casualties in the Ola vehicle fire in Pune.

PureEV said that the following mechanisms are in their batteries for the worst-case thermal runaway scenarios and to give adequate warning time periods to end users.

It claimed that “PURE batteries come with the state-of-the art thermal management system, which is a combination of the electronics coupled with multiple active/passive materials, to avoid the thermal-runaway events.

We also have a special vent mechanism so that the smokes get released immediately whenever there is any kind of event inside the battery, otherwise, a pressure cooker kind of scenario can take place, leading to sudden blast/explosion,” it added.

India has seen quite a few cases of e-scooter fires in the recent past.

In December 2021, a 60-year-old man was choked to death and four others were injured in Kanhai village, Gurugram, after their electric two-wheeler exploded while charging at home.

In the same month, electric bike X1 from Gwalior-based company Super Eco caught fire in Mumbai.

In September 2021, there was a fire involving an Okinawa electric scooter.

Experts believe that given the novelty of the technology and an underdeveloped testing system, the government should introduce a mandatory recall policy for EVs.

If anything it also puts a question mark on the testing agencies that give the type approval to the vehicles.

“Are they doing enough rounds of safety checks and audits? Maybe not,” said an industry veteran on automobile safety.

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Shine Jacob & Shally Seth Mohile in Chennai/Mumbai
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