EV fires are a wake-up call; need to focus more on product development: Shailesh Chandra, MD, Tata Passenger Electric Mobility

Swaraj Baggonkar | | Updated on: Apr 12, 2022
Shailesh Chandra with Tata Tigor EV

Shailesh Chandra with Tata Tigor EV

EV makers, battery tech specialists blame high operating temperatures, poor vehicle software, usage of dated battery technology and poor vehicle design for the fires

Rising incidents of spontaneous fires on electric two-wheelers should be a wake-up call for the electric vehicle industry and that manufacturers should provide adequate time for product testing and validation to avoid such incidents in future, a top official of Tata Motors, India’s largest producer of electric cars, said in an interview.

In the last few weeks the social media has been abuzz with viral videos and images of electric two-wheelers turning into a raging inferno, with one of the incidents even resulting in the death of the rider and the pillion. The government, which has championed for an accelerated push of electric mobility, was forced to step in to ascertain the cause of fires.

Speaking to  BusinessLine, Shailesh Chandra, Managing Director, Tata Motors Passenger Vehicle and Tata Passenger Electric Mobility said, “Electric vehicles (EV) should be safer than ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles. There are more avenues of thermal incidences in an ICE vehicle compared to EVs. If EVs are given sufficient time for design, testing, validation, especially in the conditions they are supposed to operate, these incidents would not happen.”

Fire incidents only in 2W

So far, only electric two-wheelers have seen fire incidents . There have been no reported fire incidents involving electric mini trucks, passenger electric three-wheelers, cargo electric four-wheelers and passenger electric cars from the house of reputed automotive brands like Mahindra & Mahindra, Tata Motors, MG Motor and Kinetic Green.    

Electric scooters of Ola Electric, Okinawa and Pure EV have caught fire in the last few weeks from different parts of the country. While the final verdict is not yet out, EV makers and battery technology specialists blame high operating temperatures, poor vehicle software, usage of dated battery technology and poor vehicle design for the fires.

Inadequate R&D toward EVs

There have been numerous cases of similar fires in 2021 as well involving electric scooters featuring Chinese design and Chinese battery technology. Market watchers blame the stratospheric retail demand behind the minimal investment and effort towards research and development of EVs leading to gaps in the general product development process.

Thermal management crucial

“It is imperative that all manufacturers really focus a lot on testing and design in the climatic condition of the country. Go for the right selection of chemistries, form factors and proper thermal management application. That’s the reason why we have spent a lot of time and debated on the selection of chemistry, given huge focus on thermal management to the extent our entire team went to JLR (Jaguar Land Rover) to discuss with them the thermal management strategy,” Chandra added.

Tata Motors, India’s third biggest maker of cars and SUVs, has a more than 85 percent share in the passenger electric vehicles category. The Mumbai-based company has retailed nearly 20,000 electric cars and SUVs in the personal segment since its debut in the EV space. The company has lined up an investment of ₹15,000 crore which will help it execute plans of having 10 EVs by 2025.

The fires have spooked the manufacturers and investors, who are now expecting a negative impact on retail demand for EVs as consumers would be forced to rethink the purchases.

“It (fires) is a wakeup call for many and I am sure everybody will be reevaluating their design so that it continues to sustain the (consumer) confidence that is needed,” Chandra added. 

Published on April 12, 2022
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