A recent item in the China Daily headlined “Concerns on electric cars after fiery crash” is making the rounds on Twitter, but should be read with a large grain of salt given the details of the accident that triggered the article. According to the story, an e6 electric taxi in Shenzen, made by BYD Automotive, was hit from behind and burst into flames killing the driver and two occupants. Ever since the Chevy Volt was pulled from the U.S. market temporarily for investigation of a post-collision battery fire (and ultimately cleared by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board), anytime an EV is involved in a car fire it’s apparently more newsworthy than a fire in a gasoline-powered car. But this particular incident in Shenzen occurred when a sports car driven by a drunk driver drove into the EV taxi at 180 kilometers per hour (111 miles per hour)!
Rather than attributing the fire to the extreme high speed of the collision, the story claims that the fire has “aroused public concerns about the safety of BYD’s electric cars and other similar vehicles.” For support, the article refers to “local media reports” that another taxi driver in Shenzhen who has driven the e6 for two years said he found fewer people are willing to take the electric taxis after the fiery crash. The article then cites another Chinese manufacturer’s EV that spontaneously caught fire last year, as well as the Chevy Volt investigation. To be sure, the article also repeats BYD’s statement that the e6 had passed crash tests, met national safety standards, and that 18 previous rear-end collisions involving a vehicle that has logged more than 15 million kilometers (9.3 million miles) in two years had no fires or casualties. Nevertheless, by relying on the anecdotal observation of a single taxi driver in a city with a regional population of 10 million, the implication is that the EV somehow made the fire and deaths more likely than, say, driving into the rear end of any car at speeds in excess of a hundred miles an hour.
Ordinarily what happens in China with one EV (and a lone taxi driver’s impressions of peoples’ reactions) shouldn’t have much bearing on EVs here, except that we live in a world where details and nuance often are overlooked. EVs are a particularly tempting target for clean tech critics. Whether or not U.S. sales of the BYD e6 ever start next year, EV critics will seize on the Shenzen EV fire no matter how tenuous the connection because, in the end, it’s the truthiness that’s important.