Does the fire risk associated with electric and hybrid cars present a real danger?

In 2017, the number of electric vehicles (EVs) in circulation in Europe passed the 500,000 mark. It was a record year that promises a bright future for hybrid and electric vehicles, if certain obstacles with regards to safety can be overcome. After an unfortunate incident in 2003 in which a Telsa exploded, a higher fire risk hangs over the sector. Here is what our vehicle loss adjuster, Sébastien Elie, had to say on the matter.

Mechanical decryption: electric car batteries under closer surveillance

In recent years, there has been a significant shift towards vehicles using hybrid and electric energy. These two technologies use On-board Electrical Energy (OEE) which corresponds to the electric energy stock or source carried by the vehicle and used to provide traction.

Whilst the technologies use extra-low voltage (ELV up to 120 V) or low voltage (LV up to 1,500 V), they do increase the potential risk of electrical fires in and around the electronic components, electrical cables and batteries. The use of new-generation lithium-based batteries (lithium-ion, lithium polymer metal, etc.) requires rigorous electronic management of the BMS (battery management system) to prevent their deterioration. As they are sensitive to high temperatures, lithium-based batteries can be subject to thermal runaway as their operating temperature is no longer regulated.

At the same time, the higher number of electrical cables increases the risk of electrical malfunctions which may result in fire. These two risks are frequently reported in relation to vehicles.

All of these risks often cause very significant damage, whether this is restricted to the vehicle itself or spreads to the area in which the vehicle is parked.

 

No statistics on a higher risk of fire

Despite the rise in the number of vehicles with On-board Electrical Energy, and although the risk of electrical fires has increased, there are no statistics to confirm that vehicles using On-board Electrical Energy are more prone to fires than vehicles equipped with heat engines.

According to a US firm*, electric vehicles could represent 22.4% of global sales by 2025. However, we need to observe how they age and be vigilant about the quality of work carried out as part of maintenance operations.

 

 

Sébastien ELIE,

Partner Loss Adjuster, Automotive Specialty Manager

West Central Region Director

Find out more about his area of expertise

 


*Frost & Sullivan