Cars Bursting Into Flames All Over China--And They're Not Electric

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Ferrari 458 on fire in Brazil

Ferrari 458 on fire in Brazil

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Discovering fire is undoubtedly a high point in mankind's history, but it's easy to overlook its benefits when it's consuming something you own.

We'll forgive you if your thoughts turned towards electric cars at this stage. After all, the last few years have seen a few high-profile electric car meltdowns, invariably jumped upon my electric-skeptic news outlets and repeated ad nauseum thereafter.

But let's face it--regular cars occasionally burst into flames too. And they've been doing just that in China recently, as a recent heatwave takes its toll on cars across Shanghai.

As many as 60 vehicle fires have been reported since May, according to It isn't arson, but electrical shorts in over-taxed air conditioning systems.

With high outdoor temperatures and air-con units running flat out, something has to give eventually. It's usually the rubber coating of a wire, which then leads to short circuits and fires.

That's not to mention other causes of automobile fires--oil and fuel leaks onto hot components, or other unfortunate interactions between hot objects and flammable materials. Or hot objects, flammable materials and Ferraris.

Our message? Having your car catch fire really sucks.

But it's absolutely not an electric-car-only problem, and anyone who claims EVs are inherently unsafe probably needs a little perspective.

[Hat tip: Brian Henderson]


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Comments (9)
  1. "...anyone who claims EVs are inherently unsafe probably needs a little perspective." You say that like this is just an honest misunderstanding of some kind, instead of a defense of the fossil fuels industry and a rabid attack on anything Obama supports. Your article's theme provides much-needed media balance, but I am not going to hold my breath waiting for "perspective" from the other side. Nice try, though.

  2. The reason some people thinks EVs are inherently unsafe has nothing to do with their love of the fossil fuel industry or hatred of Obama. ICE uses the oxygen in the air for combustion whereas battery power comes from internal chemical reactions. A tank of gas in a car can travel 300 miles or more whereas the battery in hybrids and EVs typically only stored a fraction of that energy. When people see the news of shoddily made Chinese cell phone and laptop batteries bursting into flame and issues with Boeing 787 lithium batteries, they can’t help from being concerned. They understand there are still many obstacles before EV can be built as cheaply and travel the same distance while maintaining the same safety as the lowly gasoline cars.

  3. Some people are not most people. Is it half or less? Laptop batteries use cobalt oxide cathodes, boeings problem was likely their BMS. You say these are what cause concern amongst those that "understand there are many obstacles", but the use of those specific examples suggests a lack of understanding. The contention that an EV has to travel the same distance between charges as an ICE can travel before refilling is a false contention also. I choose electric for commuting. If I have enough battery to drive 350 miles I will have paid for 80% more battery than I will use 98% of the time. As battery tech improves and becomes cheaper I would still prefer only 100 miles of capacity. It's the sweet spot for value.

  4. On average, 31 highway vehicle fires were reported per hour. about 200K vehicle fires per year. Now if you take away the EVs and PHEVs it's still 200K fires a year. Nevermind the facts folks, we have vested interests to protect.

  5. That data is very interesting. Let me add this link.
    It shows 49% of fires are due to mechanical failure and 23% from electrical. I think that means that the ICE is more commonly the fire source. Interestingly 8% of the fires are "intentional" :(

    But here is what I want to know.
    How have we gone from 456,000 fires/year in 1980 down to 187,500 in 2011. That is a massive improvement.

  6. The car companies have made many improvements in safety and reliability. You can also find information about the number of deaths per miles driven in the US which show cars are safer than they used to be. However, that is largely due to regulation rather than any voluntary action on the part of car companies, at least until recently, when they found that safety could be a selling point. Anyway, my particular annoyance has always been with those that use fear to prevent change. People are commonly frightened of the things they are unfamiliar with, and those opposed to electric vehicles have routinely used this and suggested that EVs are inherently unsafe, which is untrue. They in fact are safer than ICE cars and for several real reasons

  7. Sorry, Mr Ingram but this is really sloppy journalism. You make a half-hearted attempt at providing some perspective ie relating EV fires to those of ICEVs but stop short of actually doing some basic research and leave this to us, the readers! A search on the internet which would have taken you all of 60 seconds to achieve would produce the same information that Chris found. You obviously went to the same school of journalism as John Snow & co from the UK's C4 news.

  8. @Mr Winlow: Please refrain from directly insulting our writers. Countering their assertions with data is fine--we encourage robust discussion--but personal attacks are not.

  9. Gasoline is flammable and fire is always a possibility in a gasoline powered car. EV's with well designed battery packs to prevent thermal runaway are actually safer than traditional ICE vehicles. China is relatively new to auto manufacturing and I wonder if the fires are in mostly Chinese made cars rather than the imported American and European and Japanese cars. It took many years of engineering know how before carmakers were able to prevent engine fires by good design features and safety features.

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