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Home>Electric Chinese Firebird is One Hot Ride

Electric Chinese Firebird is One Hot Ride


May 09, 2011

by K. Lloyd Billingsley

Conventional vehicles are powered by gasoline, a highly flammable liquid, therefore fire is a danger for conventional vehicles. Partisans of plug-in vehicles thought electrics would be free of that peril. But electric vehicles can burst into flame as well, and unlike the Ford Pinto, it doesn’t even take a crash to kindle the blaze. 

In Hangzhou, China, last month, an electric Zotye Multipla taxi burst into flames for reasons Chinese firefighters have been unable to discern. The China Auto Web even posted photos of the vehicle on fire, the second such blaze in 2011. Apparently it was an absolute “fireball” that firefighters could not control. That’s not good for areas of high population density, though the passengers and drivers apparently escaped unharmed. The Hangzhou taxi company is yanking the vehicles, and that has electric-car promoters worried.

Reports have not surfaced about a Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt bursting into flame on Wilshire Boulevard, in Times Square, or maybe outside a government-run elementary school, where all the kids are above average.  But contrary to what you see on television, electric vehicles are not exactly trouble free, and the government doesn’t give you the whole story about them.

The EPA requires new-car labels to list the miles per gallon the cars achieve. But the EPA does not require electrics to quantify the distance you get from charging the vehicle. The charging service is not “free” and the government does not pay it. If the electric vehicles are charged from sources that use coal, overall gains for the environment could be negligible. Electric cars are also of rather limited range, and can be challenged by some kinds of terrain and driving habits.

Amy Kaleita details these and other difficulties in Car-Tastrophe: How federal policy can help, not hinder, the greening of the automobile. One other thing, summer is coming and air conditioning is not quite the same in electric cars. But as the Zotye Multipla confirms, they can sure heat up in a hurry. Maybe Ralph Nader will weigh in on the Chinese Firebird. After all, a vehicle that can burst into flame is unsafe at any speed.

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