The post-impact electric-car fire which led to the death of three people in Shenzhen, China earlier this year was not caused by the car’s battery pack, crash investigators have concluded.
The tragedy happened in May, when a BYD e6 all-electric taxi was hit early one morning by a speeding Nissan GT-R traveling at 112 mph or more.
While the drunk driver of the the sportscar escaped without injury, the e6 burst into flames, killing the driver and both passengers.
After the fire, the share value of Warren-Buffet-backed BYD dropped to a 7-month low as new reports questioned the safety of its all-electric e6 and its 60-kilowatt-hour battery pack.
Now the battery pack has been exonerated of all blame, thanks to an official accident investigation from the Chinese government.
“In the accident, the power batteries of such[sic] vehicle did not explode, 72 single-cell batteries (accounting for 75 percent of all the 96 power batteries) did not catch on fire,” an official BYD statement said.
Instead, the impact of the speeding sportscar -- believed to be over 110 mph -- “seriously compressed” the battery pack and high-voltage switch box of the all-electric taxi.
The massive deformation is then believed to have caused an electrical arc in the power circuitry which started the fire.
As Reuters reports, while 25 percent of the single-cell batteries in the BYD e6’s battery pack burnt in the fire, those that burned did not have cracked battery plates, indicating they were not the seat of the fire.
“The type and severity of the accident is extremely rare,” BYD said in an official statement, adding that the impact of the crash caused the occupants of the e6 to suffer “severe damage which exceeded the endurance limit of human bodies.”
While it doesn’t specifically say so, we infer from this statement that the driver and passengers of the e6 died on impact, before the fire started.
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
Moving forward, the company indicates that it believes the e6’s current design is not at fault.
“The designs of the battery system in relation to the installation layout on the vehicle, the insulation protection and the high voltage system and reasonable,” it said. “No flaws in the safety design of the vehicle were revealed.”
The conclusion of the official investigation is good news for the Chinese automaker, which is promising a (delayed) launch of the e6 in the U.S. some time in 2013.
It also serves as a reminder that whatever the vehicle or its fuel type, unless you’re very lucky, ultra-high-speed crashes are usually fatal.