Report: Battery Fires Emitting Toxic Fumes Steer Some Consumers from Electric Vehicles

This undated photo provided by National Transportation Safety Board, The Orange County Fire Authority battles a fire on a burning vehicle inside a garage in Orange County, Calif. When firefighters removed the SUV from the garage to assess the fire , they identified the fuel source as the SUV’s high-voltage …
Orange County Sheriff’s Department/National Transportation Safety Board via AP

The Detroit News published a lengthy article explaining that batteries catching on fire in electric vehicles is a problem steering some consumers away from purchasing them, but it is not so problematic that the outlet could not find people committed to buying them.

“The thing that pisses me off more than anything is this gives EVs bad press,” Scott Virgin said in the article about his Chevy Bolt. His vehicle’s battery caught fire, requiring firefighters’ assistance twice because the smoldering battery reignited. 

Virgin’s car burst into flames in June 2020 outside a Miami body shop where he was waiting for a repair.

“Up until the bursting into flames thing, it was the best car that I’ve ever owned,” Virgin said. “I absolutely adored that car.”

The Detroit  News reported:

Today’s modern electric powertrain technology, pioneered by General Motors Co., Tesla Inc. and a handful of global automakers, is transforming the global industry even as it exposes some unintended consequences. Among them: Batteries, if defective, can catch fire, burn for hours and release toxic fumes.

Virgin’s EV was one of more than 141,000 Bolts GM later recalled for battery-fire risk after the Detroit automaker and its battery supplier identified two manufacturing defects blamed for 18 non-crash-related fires.

An electric car and a plug-in hybrid car charge at a public charging station on October 12, 2019 in Berlin, Germany. Germany is hoping to encourage electric car sales as a means to brining down CO2 emissions and combat climate change. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

An electric car and a plug-in hybrid car charge at a public charging station on October 12, 2019, in Berlin. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

The Detroit News article tried to promote electric vehicles and cited studies that show gas-powered vehicles also catch fire, including Hyundai and Kia, which have been recalled because of fire risk in recent years.

But buried in the report is other bad news about electric vehicles.

• Firefighters fighting a blaze on a car-carrying cargo ship that sank earlier this month in the Atlantic Ocean said electric cars complicated the operation.

“The cars are electric, and part of the fire is the batteries that are still burning,” a spokesman for Royal Boskalis Westminster N.V., which salvaged the ship, told the Wall Street Journal.

• EVs made up only three percent of U.S. vehicle sales in 2021.

“If automakers can’t persuade growing numbers of customers to ditch their fossil fuel rides and go electric, the resistance could imperil billions of dollars in investment,” the Detroit News reported.

• GM is not the only EV producer with battery problems. BMW AG has recalled hybrid vehicles because of battery manufacturing problems. Hyundai Motor Co. has recalled thousands of electric Kona and Ioniq vehicles because of manufacturing defects that short-circuited batteries, creating a fire risk, the News reported. Stellantis N.V. recently recalled almost 20,000 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans because of fire risk.

• Electric vehicles made up less than 0.4 percent of the total registered vehicle fleet in 2020, according to the National Highway and Transportation Safety.

“EV fire recalls are going to cause your average consumer to want to be reassured that whatever the issue that is causing the issue is resolved from a design standpoint, a quality control standpoint,” Jason Levine, former executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, said in the Detroit News report. “I’m not saying we do have a circumstance that in any way is preventing adoption. We want to avoid getting to that space.”

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