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Development and testing of electric vehicles need to follow strict protocols and companies must not rush to the market in order to avoid incidents of vehicles catching fire, according to automotive industry leaders.

With EVs (Electric Vehicles) still evolving, the manufacturers are in the process of learning and even the testing agencies are yet to figure out exactly what needs to be tested to ensure that there are no electric vehicle fires, said auto industry veteran and former Managing Director of M&M Pawan Goenka.

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“If we go back 15-20 years back, we had seen such kind of things with internal combustion engine cars as well… because we were not aware at that time as what needs to be done,” Goenka, now the Chairman, Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), noted.

EVs are evolving and hence “a little bit of that (fire incidents) is bound to happen. I wouldn’t say that manufacturers are taking it lightly. I would not like to believe it”, he added.

While admitting that the fire incidents can give the whole EV industry a “bad name”, Goenka asserted, “I don’t think any manufacturer by design is being careless, it is just that we don’t know enough right now.” It’s a learning process and is maturing very fast. The government is also coming very strongly on checks that are required, he said, adding, “even the testing agencies do not know exactly what needs to be tested to ensure that there are no electric vehicle fires”.

Automotive Component Manufacturers Association (ACMA) President Sunjay Kapur said there is a need to look at the development process of EVs as many of the players have no prior experience in the sector.

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The EV technology being new, processes need to be followed diligently in order to avoid fire incidents, he noted, adding, fire incidents in internal combustion engine vehicles are more than EVs, but it’s just that EVs get highlighted.

“There’s also a process we have to go through when we even change a line or an equipment in terms of an approval process. So I think the process needs to be followed. As long as the process is followed, we won’t run into these problems often,” Kapur told reporters here when asked about the recent fire incidents in electric two-wheelers.

He said that there should be a focus on industry players as to how they develop and launch products in the market.

“There are also a lot of new vehicle manufacturers who have not manufactured vehicles in the past that are coming into this space…and therefore we’re going to have to see how those manufacturers evolved in terms of their technologies, in terms of the adoption and adaptation of the technologies and manage that process better,” Kapur said.

When asked if more stringent action is needed from the government, Goenka said the government can’t regulate quality, they can only determine some tests and say that these tests need to be passed.

“Today nobody knows what tests make a vehicle absolutely trouble-free from thermal management…and therefore I would like to think that the government also is learning along with the industry. Once tests are defined, I have no doubt that all OEMs, auto compoment makers will ensure that these vehicles pass tests,” he added.

There is a possibility that some players may have not fully understood what needs to be tested and have not done that kind of development, Goenka said, adding, “I don’t think one should conclude that electric vehicles are unsafe in terms of thermal management.” On September 13, the road transport and highways ministry ordered a preliminary enquiry into the fire incident at an electric bike showroom in Secunderabad area of Hyderabad.

Eight people, including a woman, staying in a hotel were killed in a midnight fire that originated from an electric bike showroom located below, in Secunderabad area.

Concerned over cases of fire incidents involving electric two-wheelers, the road transport ministry recently introduced additional safety provisions in the battery safety standards, which will come into effect from October 1.

The amendments include additional safety requirements related to battery cells, on-board charger, design of battery pack, and thermal propagation due to internal cell short circuit leading to fire.

In April this year, cases of electric two-wheelers of manufacturers such as Ola Electric, Okinawa Autotech and PureEV catching fire were reported. It prompted the government to form a panel to examine.

The ministry of road transport and highways had constituted an expert committee, chaired by ARCl Hyderabad director Tata Narsingh Rao, Centre for Fire, Explosive & Environment Safety (CFEES) scientist  M K Jain, Indian Institute of Science principal research scientist Subba Reddy, and IIT Madras professor Devendra Jalihal as members to recommend additional safety requirements in the existing battery safety standards notified under CMV Rules.

Taking the EV fire accidents into consideration, road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari in April warned companies of penalties if they were found to be negligent and said they would be ordered to recall the defective vehicles.

Subsequently, Ola Electric recalled 1,441 units of its electric two-wheelers. Okinawa also announced its recall of 3,215 units of its Praise Pro electric scooter to fix any issue related to batteries. Similarly, Pure EV recalled 2,000 units of its ETrance+ and EPluto 7G models. PTI MSS RKL HVA

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