The business environment created by what seems like a goldrush for entities with no knowledge of electric vehicles is the reason behind the surge in instances of EVs catching fire, said Rajiv Bajaj, MD of Bajaj Auto on Friday. He was speaking after inaugurating a new EV production line at Akurdi, Pune.

“You call them start-ups; I call them upstarts. I am amazed that people with no R&D, no engineering, nothing more than half-an-assembly facility are importing stuff that has not really been validated for the marketplace and are putting it out there,” Bajaj said.

Almost every start-up engaged in production and sales of electric two-wheelers has reported at least one fire incident from their product range, some of which have even led to loss of life and property. Hero Electric, Okinawa, Ola Electric, Ather Energy, Pure EV have seen their electric scooters go up in flames recently.

Underlying issue

“The issue is not about fire but about the underlying process of the manufacturer. We are not here opportunistically because there is a big carrot out there in the market tempting so many people that perhaps have failed at everything else to go and import some kits, assemble and sell them. This is the environment that unfortunately exists,” Bajaj added.

Several start-ups do not have any local research and development facility and depend on imported technology and vehicle design. Most of these come from China, which is the world’s biggest market of electric two-wheelers. China is phasing out NMC batteries, which is otherwise widely used in India but is unsuitable, due to the average high temperatures in the country, said experts.

The Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) that was tasked by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways to investigate EV fire incidents found defects in battery pack design and modules of some of these start-ups.

‘Norms diluted’

The demand for EVs in India, however, remains robust given the continuous increase in the price of petrol and the low running costs when compared to a petrol-powered model. Electric-scooter buyers have to wait for 3-6 months for delivery of their vehicle. Bajaj also blamed government authorities for diluting norms which are also the reason behind the EV fires.

“What concerns me is actually the environment that has promoted this goldrush. Why is this happening? Why are people with no business in EVs trying to be in the EV business? This must be fixed and understood. This is partly because the relevant authorities in the government have deliberately diluted the norms. For example, under the guise of low-speed vehicles, you can bring any junk from anywhere and put it on the roads. What else do you expect if electric scooters don’t catch fire?” Bajaj said.

Bajaj Auto entered the EV space with the launch of the electric Chetak in January 2020. The Pune-based company now plans to expand its EV offerings not just with expansion of the Chetak family but with new electric three-wheelers and products developed in partnership with the start-up Yulu.

“Will (the fire incidents) necessarily colour the industry? I don’t think so. I think consumers are smarter, they understand and they will increasingly understand the value of making the choice for proven brands and proven products,” Bajaj added.