Defective battery cell likely to catch fire in e-scooters in India, says preliminary probe

Two government sources told Reuters that faulty battery cells and modules have been identified as the leading cause of fires in electric scooters in India in recent weeks, according to the findings of a preliminary federal investigation.

The investigation investigated fire incidents involving three companies, including Ola ElectricWhich is backed by Japan’s SoftBank Group, and was the country’s best-selling e-scooter maker in April.

A source with direct knowledge of the report said, “In Ola’s case, there was a problem with the battery cell as well as the battery management system.”

In March, India launched an investigation into safety concerns after an e-scooter caught fire, in which a man and his daughter died when their e-bike “goed into flames”.

India wants e-scooters and e-bikes to make up 80 per cent of total two-wheeler sales by 2030, up from around 2 per cent today. But concerns about safety jeopardize consumer confidence and could derail the growth of a sector that is critical of the country’s carbon reduction goals.

“The government has taken samples of cells from three companies for further testing,” the person said, adding that the final test report is expected in about two weeks.

Ola, which sources its cells from South Korea’s LG Energy Solutions (LGES), says it is working with the government on the issue and has appointed an external expert agency, in addition to conducting its own investigation.

“As per the preliminary assessment of these experts, there was no defect in the Ola battery management system and it was an isolated thermal incident,” a company spokesperson said in a statement.

LGES in Seoul said in a statement to Reuters, “The Indian government’s report has not yet been released or shared with us. We cannot comment on the report as we have learned about the origin of the Ola scooter incident in March.” The cause has not been identified.”

On April 18, Prashant Kumar, an executive at LGES in India, told Reuters that the company and Ola are “collaborating on an unfortunate incident and trying to understand the root cause.”

The government investigation also investigated incidents of fire in scooters made by Indian startups. Okinawa And PureEV, In the case of Okinawa there was a problem with the cell and battery module and for PureEV it was the battery casing, the first source said.

PureEV and Okinawa did not respond to emails seeking comment, but have previously said they are investigating the fire and have recalled some scooters.

Another source said the initial findings of the investigation have prompted the government to consider testing the battery cells of the e-scooters before allowing them to launch.

India currently tests battery packs, but not cells that are mainly imported from South Korea or China.

“If India decides to test cells, it will have to build up the infrastructure and expertise,” the person said.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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