A fatal road accident in Shenzhen at the weekend has raised concerns about the safety of electric cars developed on the mainland amid an ongoing central government push for them to be more widely used.
At about 3am on Saturday, a speeding sports car rear-ended a BYD E6 electric taxi, causing the cab to catch fire, killing the driver and two passengers, according to The Southern Metropolis News.
Police said the driver of the sports car had been drinking. He fled the scene with three young women in the car, but turned himself in yesterday.
One witness, another taxi driver, said: 'The sports car must have been driving at between 150 and 200km/h when it passed me. I was driving at more than 90km/h.' He added that he saw the BYD taxi in flames on the roadside a few minutes later.
Numerous calls to BYD for comment went unanswered yesterday.
The electric taxi and its occupants were incinerated, the report said.
A member of the rescue team said that, based on the wreckage, it was possible that an explosion occurred in the electric car.
The accident raised concerns, largely online, over the safety of electric cars, the report added.
Lo Kok-keung, an engineer with the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said that a fully charged lithium battery could explode in a serious crash.
'The crash could result in a short circuit, which, in turn, could make the battery hot and eventually explode within a matter of seconds,' Lo said. 'This is the major hidden danger of electric cars that doesn't exist in vehicles that consume petrol.'
With support from the central government, BYD has poured billions of yuan into developing its electric vehicles, offering tens of thousands of yuan in rebates for buyers. The Shenzhen government has also spared no effort in building new charging stations.
Shares in the Hong Kong-listed carmaker soared in 2009 upon word of the environmentally friendly push, and after the high-profile backing of US billionaire Warren Buffett. But the stock plunged last year on poor sales.
About 300 BYD E6 taxis and 200 buses, all of which run solely on electricity, are operating on the streets of Shenzhen.
Lo suggested that makers of electric cars install circuit breakers on each battery, to help avoid future explosions in accidents. 'The safety of electric vehicles could certainly be raised significantly by doing so,' he said.
In a move to become China's electric vehicle capital, Shenzhen in March set a goal to replace more than 50 per cent of the city's internal combustion engine buses with electric or hybrid models by 2015.
Shenzhen mayor Xu Qin said during the current National People's Congress in Beijing that within three years the city would ban all vehicles that failed to meet the country's advanced emission standards. Xu said 3,000 electric or hybrid vehicles were put into use in Shenzhen last year, and 2,000 were planned for this year.
In Shenzhen, every electric bus put on the road has received a one million yuan (HK$1.22 million) subsidy since 2010, half from the central government and half from Shenzhen's. Subsidies for hybrid buses were increased from 300,000 to 600,000 yuan last year.