Over the weekend we heard the disturbing news that a BYD e6 electric taxi in Shenzhen China had burst into flames and killed three of its occupants after being hit by a speeding drunk driver.
According to eyewitness reports, the BYD e6 taxi, one of around 400 e6 electric taxis being used in the area, was hit at around 3am on a popular downtown route by a Nissan GT-R driven by a drunk driver traveling at 112 mph or more.
The impact was so great that the e6 was sent slamming into a tree, whereupon it burst into flames.
ChinaAutoWeb says local television stations report its occupants, two women passengers and the taxi’s driver, were unable to escape before the flames engulfed the car.
All three died in the ensuing fire.
Meanwhile, the drunk driver and the occupants of the second car he hit, a gasoline-powered taxi, all survived.
Chinese battery electric crossover: BYD e6 test drive, Los Angeles, May 2012
Chinese battery electric crossover: BYD e6 test drive, Los Angeles, May 2012Enlarge Photo
Images after the accident clearly show that the rear of the taxi had deformed or buckled as a consequence of the impact and subsequent fire, but at this time there has been no formal word of how -- or why -- the blaze started.
Without any official statements however, speculation points directly at the car’s powerful 53 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, which is situated underneath the passenger cabin.
Should we worry?
No. Here’s why.
While the Chinese crash-testing authority, C-NCAP, has made dramatic improvements to its 2012 standards over previous years, its maximum impact speed test is just under 40 mph.
Previously, cars were tested on their ability to survive a 34 mph impact test, and didn’t have to undergo any rear-end or pedestrian crash testing.
In short, it’s likely that the BYD e6 which was involved in the collision was approved for use under less-stringent crash test standards.
Just like their gasoline counterparts, any electric car sold in the U.S. today must pass a strictly-administered suite of crash tests designed to ensure that they meet the required federal automotive safety standards.
Under the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, cars have to undergo side-impact and rollover tests in addition to frontal crash tests.
Designed to ensure that passengers stay safe in the event of a collision, the tests also examine the car’s battery pack and power electronics, ensuring that, like gas cars, the probability of post-crash fires and explosions are kept extremely low.
2012 Fiat 500 IIHS crash testing
2012 Fiat 500 IIHS crash testingEnlarge Photo
In addition, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) also carries out its own tests on all U.S. market cars, offering a second safety standard which is prized by automakers and consumers as much as those from the NHTSA.
Earlier today, BYD made an official statement in which it said that in the extensive crash-tests prior to its launch, BYD had not witnessed a single battery fire in an e6 vehicle, adding that some of the tests had led to a 50 percent deformation.
"Any vehicle undergoing multiple crashes and spinning like the one in the May 26 traffic accident will result in great danger for the passengers and driver," it said in the statement. "Even gasoline powered vehicles might burn," it concluded.
The tragic accident may also hurt BYD’s reputation in the U.S., where it is preparing an updated e6 for sale to U.S. consumers in the next few years.