2011 Chevrolet Volt destroyed in Barkhamsted, CT, garage fire; image from WTNH News 8 reportEnlarge Photo
Three months, three fires
Last November, musician Neil Young lost $800,000 of musical memorabilia and at least one classic car in a garage fire. Local fire officials conluded it had been caused by his converted electric "LincVolt," a 1959 Lincoln Continental converted to battery power with a biodiesel-fueled generator. Its construction had been the subject of a documentary film.
Later that same month, a Nissan Qashqai crossover converted to electric power by A Future Electric Vehicles of Denmark burst into flames aboard the Pearl of Scandinavia, a ferry running out of Oslo.
In January, an Audi A2 converted to electric power using a new type of battery from DBM Energy was destroyed in a warehouse fire in Berlin. Last October, that car had garnered huge publicity for apparently covering 375 miles on a single charge. DBM issued a statement claiming its battery was not in the car at the time.
Overcharging a risk
As author Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield points out, electric-vehicle conversion fires rarely occur due to short circuits. Instead, a prime culprit can be not switching off the charging station when the battery has reached capacity.
AFutureEV Fire - Oslo
Nickel-metal-hydride and lithium-ion battery packs require active thermal management to prevent the cells from overheating, and most home converters don't have the skills to design and build a system with adequate sensors, logic, and safeguards to cope with all possible conditions.
That's why developing electric cars properly costs hundreds of millions of dollars. Or more.
Plug-in Prius up in flames
And Gordon-Bloomfield knows that as well as anyone. Her own Toyota Prius, converted to plug-in operation so it could run on grid power that charged a larger battery pack she had installed, caught fire a couple of years ago.
She's not alone; in June 2008, a converted plug-in Prius operated by the Central Electric Power Cooperative in South Carolina was destroyed after it caught fire. And there are other instances of converted electric cars catching fire as well.
Gordon-Bloomfield now drives a 2011 Nissan Leaf, a factory-built electric car from a major auto manufacturer.