Accidents happen, even to electric cars

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 June, 2012, 12:00am


There is no greater potential blow to a burgeoning industry or technology than a fatal accident. The mainland electric carmaker BYD has been abandoned by some shareholders and the safety of its vehicles questioned after the three occupants of one of its taxis died in a fiery collision in Shenzhen. Internet users have been quick to blame Chinese products in general and the company's in particular. With a paucity of information and an investigation not yet completed, such comments are unwarranted, but should not be ignored; they are a useful indicator of how much work needs to be done to improve the reputation of electric cars and the 'Made in China' brand.

The taxi exploded and caught fire after being struck by a speeding sports car, prompting claims that its battery had been poorly designed. Such an accusation goes straight to the heart of BYD's mark, battery technology being the prime selling point in the competitive electric vehicle market. But the exact circumstances and whether this was the cause may never be known, making the rush to point fingers wrong. It also ignores the reality that it is not rare for cars, no matter where they are made or how they are powered, to catch fire.

New technologies can take years to perfect. The electric car industry's challenge is developing a battery that can match the performance of fuel-driven vehicles. In the rush to beat the competition, there are bound to be bumps on the road of invention.

The fire has prompted concern about the safety of electric cars. We should first wonder at how safe any powered vehicle is. It has also brought back into focus the quality of mainland-made goods. With the government pushing hi-tech industries as the nation's future, aspirations would appear to have taken a hit, just as after last July's high-speed train collision near Hangzhou . Unlike that crash, though, the blaze should not be seen as the result of a faulty system. Rather, it should be remembered that accidents happen.