Improving technology means that electric vehicles (EV) are able to go for ever-longer ranges, but it’s also challenging the safety limits of batteries, as one leading Chinese EV maker is finding out.
So far in 2019, there have been least three incidents of electric minivans of the same model catching fire while charging, with the latest incident happening last week in Shenzhen, news outlet National Business Daily (link in Chinese) reported yesterday (March 18). The vehicles in question are the Beiqi Weiwang 407EV, manufactured by BJEV (paywall), an EV maker linked to state-owned manufacturer BAIC, a staffer at the Shenzhen Electric Vehicle Application and Promotion Center confirmed to Quartz.
Founded in 2009, BJEV is one of the country’s biggest manufacturers of battery electric vehicles. Last year, it topped sales of battery passenger cars in China, selling about 150,000 units (link in Chinese).
BJEV didn’t respond immediately to a request for comment.
The incidents come at a time as China’s rapid advance into electric cars is now placing a greater focus on increasing battery performance, with the government using the energy density of batteries as a key factor in determining the subsidies given to carmakers. But the measure has also drawn criticism (link in Chinese). In theory, high energy density means (paywall) that batteries can last longer, are cheaper, and are also lighter in weight. That, however, poses more serious challenges to battery safety because energy-rich metals like lithium tend to be reactive. That’s part of the reason why China has a surveillance network working 24/7 to monitor EVs and prevent batteries from catching fire, though it’s unclear if the 407EVs made by BJEV are part of the network.
Starting at a price of around 100,000 yuan ($15,000) each, the EV407 minivan has a range of 220 kilometers (136 miles). The van is designed for use in urban logistics services, according to the company (link in Chinese). Since the incidents, three companies including Lalamove, a Hong Kong-based logistics firm which has operations in China, have stopped using the model, a news outlet focusing on the battery industry reported (link in Chinese).