Skip to Content
Uncategorized

Much-Needed Perspective on the GM Volt Battery Fires

250,000 vehicles catch fire on America’s roads every year, and exactly none of them are electric.
December 8, 2011

No electric car has ever caught fire under real-world conditions, but the battery packs of two Chevy Volts have in test crashes. The controversy that followed could have been predicted, unfortunately. For all our talk of embracing innovation, there is always someone ready to declare that the growing pains of disruptive new technologies are in fact their death knell.

That’s why I created the two graphs above, based on data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics and the National Fire Protection Association. Every year, more than 250,000 vehicles catch fire, largely because every gallon of gasoline contains roughly 100 times as much energy as a kilogram of TNT.

Every year, on average, 440 people are killed and more than 1500 injured when their conventional vehicle catches fire. We’re all driving what are essentially giant liquid-fueled bombs with wheels attached, and the only reason we never have to think about it are the many decades and extraordinary measures that stand between us and the earliest conventional vehicles.

Most things that can make their energy density readily available are going to carry with them the risk of runaway reactions, whether that’s a short circuit or fire and explosion. Poorly made lithium-ion laptop batteries that aren’t so different from the cells in a Chevy Volt have caught fire before, and might again. And it must be granted that there are a tiny number of electric cars on the road compared to conventional vehicles.

However, numbers like the above – and the fact that GM thinks it has a fix for the Volt that will make current and future models more or less immune from this problem, demonstrate that the issue of vehicle fires in electric cars is not just much ado about nothing, but a complete inversion of the logic all new car buyers should adopt when considering the safety of electric vehicles.

sources

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

NFPA Vehicle Fires in the U.S. 2003-2007

NFPA Rail Vehicle Fires in the U.S. 2003-2007

Follow @Mims or contact him via email

Deep Dive

Uncategorized

Embracing CX in the metaverse

More than just meeting customers where they are, the metaverse offers opportunities to transform customer experience.

Identity protection is key to metaverse innovation

As immersive experiences in the metaverse become more sophisticated, so does the threat landscape.

The modern enterprise imaging and data value chain

For both patients and providers, intelligent, interoperable, and open workflow solutions will make all the difference.

Scientists have created synthetic mouse embryos with developed brains

The stem-cell-derived embryos could shed new light on the earliest stages of human pregnancy.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.