This Week in EVs: Disaster Edition

It’s been a few weeks since my last TWiEVs post, but there hasn’t been much to cover. No matter, the biggest news in the world of automotive electric propulsion has really been flooding in this week (pun intended). Once again I’ve gathered some electric vehicle and battery news from around the net for SU readers to gain some insight into Saab’s new challenges.

Image from Jalopnik

Battery safety has been called into question this week after several Fisker Karmas and Toyota Prii (priuses?) spontaneously combusted after burning at port after being inundated by the storm surge of Superstorm Sandy. That same storm made getting gas an extreme headache for anyone with a car in downstate New York and northern New Jersey as many readers here can attest, we’ll look into how having more EVs might change that.

And speaking of EVs in North America, there’s some new studies out that show the US will actually lead plug-in sales in the next few years and that China will surprisingly not meet anticipated targets. Someone might want to tell those guys at NEVS they might want to rethink their Chinacentric model?

Saltwater + Batteries = Bad Idea

In an event that took most of the tristate area in the Northeast US by storm and is continuing to cause untold pain, a fascinating experiment happened when a 13′ storm surge inundated the power of Newark. Yes, it’s the same port that once held hundreds of Saabs but fortunately a few days before Sandy flooded NJ, had only four left (I’m not sure if they made it out before, if anyone does feel free to chime in on comments below). As many of you know, Fisker has their Karmas built in Finland at Valmet, the same factory where 9-3 Convertibles were manufactured for GM only a few years ago, then shipped to the Port of Newark for delivery to US customers. Sixteen were parked there when the surge hit, in addition to a few Toyota Prius plug-ins (one that smoldered, the other outright combusted). The leading theory at the moment was posted at the New York Times, which made the connection between the much higher conductivity of salt water which acts as a connection between the negative and positive diodes of the battery and caused a chemical cascading reaction that led to the fires. While this all sounds scary on the surface and initially causes great concern over battery safety, when you back up and think of all the scenarios that this could possibly happen, it’s pretty much limited to saltwater flooding. Lesson: if you live on the coast of the ocean and there’s any chance of a flood, move your car to higher ground because even if it’s not electric, if it floods it’s going to be a mess regardless.

Disasterproofing your commute

One of the leaders of the EV movement who runs the blog Insideevs.com learned his lesson after his power was out for an extended period of time after the last hurricane that struck the Northeast plus a freak snowstorm that downed deciduous trees. He purchased a Generac natural gas electric generator with enough kW output to power his home and charge his two EVs. While there is still gas rationing in New Jersey today, Lyle has seen absolutely no disruption to his daily routine, despite the grid power being out at his home. This is something to think about for those SU readers who like to only see the downside to using a plug to power your car. I too have had a Generac natural gas generator since 2006 and have to say it’s one of the best investments of $5,000 you can make if you experience freak storms the way we have in the Northeast in the past few years– just in groceries that didn’t go bad through extended power outages alone it’s paid for itself. Some companies like Bank of America and Apple are actually integrating entire natural gas generation plants into their headquarters not only to protect against disasters but use a more environmentally friendly power source than coal. As more and more EVs begin to get plugged into the grid, it may even make sense for governments and utility companies to offer incentives to get more people generating their own power from solar, wind, or even natural gas to fill in the grid and reduce load on the system.

Tesla meeting targets though still not profitable

Tesla has been awarded with some huge awards in the last week, from the Model S earning it’s spot as one of the Inventions of the Year in Time Magazine to being named Automobile’s Car of the Year. They’re going to need that as they’re still spending more than they take in from car sales. In the big picture they’re just starting to stretch their legs, as they are meeting production targets and seeing steady demand for the Model S. Thankfully, they have access to enormous amounts of private capital and were buoyed by the US DoE loan that they fully drew down and are beginning to pay back (right wingers might want to note that the US government is expected to make back every penny from it, and as a bonus, Tesla is building their cars in California and employing Americans in high tech positions, not in China or Europe). I can only hope that Saab has as deep pockets as Elon Musk and his investors to weather the inevitable growing pains they face in similar startup waters.

Look, No Wires!

For all of you who think it’s too much of a hassle to plug your new Saab into your garage at night, not to worry. That’s what Plugless Power is promising for Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf owners. Again, I hope NEVS works from the get go to be compatible with these systems.

Note to NEVS: You may want to rethink your primary market

Two things caught my attention from Mattias Bergman’s NEVS presentation at Oktoberfest. First, that he was so insistent on China becoming the number one EV market in the world and second, that NEVS is still interested in the traditional Saab markets around the world. It’s not really news that most SU readers have been nervous about Saab being exported to their home markets. As the US has historically been the number one market for Saab, we certainly have reason to hope that NEVS wants to keep the North American sales infrastructure intact somehow. New evidence suggests they might want to heed that advice.

Another article at InsideEVs caught my attention. While NEVS may want to disagree with the evidence, McKinsey & Co, a leading consulting company who covers the EV market, has found that they might be able to produce 300,000 cars by 2017, and even that is dependent on conditions not yet seen in the market including enormous subsidies. Previous targets had them at 500,000 by 2015 (not happening) and 5,000,000 by 2020 (definitely not happening). Saab will be competing against several companies that have the innate advantage of building their cars in China, and if they’re competing for a dramatically smaller market, they’re going to need to rethink their global sales strategy.

Meanwhile, Pike Research who specializes in reporting on clean energy markets, has released a report that suggests that the US will be the #1 consumer of PEVs – Plug-in Electric Vehicles which includes Battery (BEVs) and Plug-in Hybrids (PHEVs)– in the world, ahead of even China. Their forecast suggests that US and Japanese producers (Ford, GM and Toyota, cough) will benefit most, though I’m hoping Saab slides in under the radar and surprises everyone.

The 80-page study predicts Ford and Toyota will lead the PEV market in terms of total vehicles sold in the U.S. from 2012 to 2020.

“Despite the early introduction of the Leaf, from Nissan, and the significant marketing push behind it, we expect Nissan to trail Toyota, Ford, and General Motors by a significant margin through the end of the decade,” says research director John Gartner. “Although Ford has been relatively slower than some competitors to enter the passenger PEV market, its future plans are ambitious, and it will be the only automaker to surpass 400,000 PEVs sold in the United States through 2020.”

As per the report, PEV sales in the United States should reach nearly 48,000 units in 2012, making the United States the country with the highest number of PEV sales.

The report expects the U.S. will maintain this leading position at least through 2020 – and beyond. Worldwide sales of PEVs are expected to surpass 1 million units in 2017, after 7 years in the market – about half the time it took hybrid electric vehicles to reach that level.

As battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are purchased in greater numbers over the next few years, Pike Research’s analysis indicates that significant regional differences in adoption patterns will emerge. For example, while PHEVs will outsell BEVs in North America, the converse is true in Europe and Asia.

While I’m not suggesting that the Chinese market not be a considerable target for NEVS, they may want to at least consider the necessity of selling EVs in the west sooner rather than later. Whether or not they admit it now to us or not, this reality may force them to change their business plan in a way that most of us would be pretty happy with. The report found that PHEVs will be more popular in the US, and if you couple that to the notion that Saab’s historical largest market has been the US and that the largest PEV market in the world will continue to be the US, then you’d hope that NEVS should concentrate on the US as their largest market too. Extending that logic further, since PHEVs are expected to be the primary driver of PEV growth in the US over the next decade, it would be wise for NEVS to focus on some sort of range extender option for their first ground up effort. It just makes business sense, and the analysts and facts support it.

45 thoughts on “This Week in EVs: Disaster Edition”

  1. yes, although China is now trying to lead the world in PEVs by issuing subsidies, free license plates (gasoline cars needs a auction and lottery drawing system to get a license (no hukou, no qulification to even attend the lottery drawng system), demands is expected to remain flat in the next few years due to self-burning events of BYD E6 BEV and Zotye EV in the past two years, battery safety, short running range due to battery capacity, lack of charging facities.
    Actually in China, the fundamental question to popularize EVs is where the electricity come from. You may think EV may be not a good idea for China if you realized that over 80% electricity was generated by coal burning, which is the main contributor of NOX, PM and GHG, against China’s clean environmental target. EV charging facities also takes up too much spaces, which is against the fact that China has even no enough spaces for people to build house to live in. EV is not suitable for China and it is really not a wise decision for NEVS to focus on China market.

    • I expect NEVS electical cars main market is densly populated areas. I think China is a significantly different market from the US, for three reasons: Infrastructure (I think the risk of fragmentation just like in the US mobile industry is significant), battery availability and subsidizing/regulatory issues. Add to that the fact that peak oil awareness is significantly higher in the China leadership.

  2. -Natural gas: Seems a bit weird as an electric power generation means, aside from emergency use. It contradicts the idea of getting away from fossile carbon sources, and is less efficient than directly using the methane in combustion engine cars.

    -Wireless charging: Makes no sense to me. 1. Effciency is much worse than by direct connection. 2. For the next generation of cars, required charging power is either too high anyway, or will produce immense electro magnetic stray fields. 3. Since the car still needs to be parked above a specific pad, why not use a robotic arm that automatically connects the outlet with the car’s plug?

    • When I talk with aviation-engineers we often come up on what usually breaks and which components are expensive. The usual answer is: anything that moves! =)

      I think that magnetic charging, even though its still in its infancy will be a good solution since it has no moving parts and thus require very little maintenance giving it a high profit margin.

      But then you have to ask yourself, is it worth digging up the asphalt at a parking lot just to install these huge magnetic chargers… probably easier and a lot cheaper just to put a charging cable that is plugged in manually next to the parking instead…

      • I don’t know if it really is in its infancy. Maybe only the wrong companies are working on it.

        For instance companies like Bombardier have system like their PRIMOVE system that deliver wireless charging to trams, buses cars or trucks, and even while they are running.

        • The Primove concept is flexible and interesting for automotive purposes, but I’m curious how all these different systems will be adapted to either SAE or some sort of standard to be applied to multiple brands. The Plugless Power team seems to be addressing that head on by integrating adapters directly at the factory with GM and Nissan. It’ll be interesting to see who Saab chooses to partner with.

    • Natural gas cogeneration plants are actually extremely interesting and do save on a building’s energy load. I’ll leave this excerpt for you from an article about Bank of America tower in Manhattan:

      [Bank of America’s Architects] eventually implemented a 4.6 MW natural gas-fired cogeneration plant which went on-line this summer. It is expected to satisfy about 65 percent of the building’s annual electricity demand. The strategy, also known as combined heat and power (CHP), derives its efficiencies from making use of the heat that is a byproduct of the generation process. At the Bank of America, the heat is used to make steam, which in turn heats the building and its domestic water supply. It also is used to operate an absorption chiller for cooling.

      As with most office buildings, the tower’s demand for electricity is lower during off hours. However, “the economics of the CHP would only make sense if it could run pedal to the metal 24-7,” says Scott Frank, PE, a partner at Jaros Baum & Bolles, the project’s mechanical engineer. So, in order to even out the load profile, designers included a 44-tank thermal energy storage system. It makes ice at night with excess electricity. During the day, the melting ice supplements building cooling. The team estimates that the CHP plant, working in concert with the energy storage system, will reduce daytime peak electricity demand by 30 percent.

      The CHP plant, which designers say is the first large-scale installation of its type in a New York City office tower, was the building’s most logistically challenging feature to realize. The team needed to route natural gas lines through the densely occupied structure and isolate the equipment for noise and vibration. There was also a maze of permitting hurdles, including approvals from the fire department and the local utility.

      In many ways you could call it a building hybrid, just like we call cars hybrids. What makes me most excited about NEVS is that they can tap into some really forward thinking engineering to solve problems in unforseen ways. And they need to in order to differentiate themselves in the EV industry.

    • Tesla has a strange model too that in my mind hinders them. If you want to buy a Tesla, they will bring a car to you to test drive. Sounds great but call me old fashion but I’d like to see the car in a showroom and meet the staff of the dealership. Oh but wait, they don’t have dealerships. Tesla does not have dealers and that to me will hinder sales. Without a dealer body I think it’s hard to install confidence that the company is here to stay and when my warranty is gone what will it cost to get things fixed and who can work on it. At least Fisker is setting up a dealer network.

      • This may well be, but as it seems, they still sell the cars faster than they can produce them, yet they loose money…

        Maybe their business model is based on the assumption that when they sharge less now than what they actually needed, they can become a player until the prices for batteries go down enough, and after then, they will make a profit.
        The question here of course is, why the battery costs should ge down.

        • They make a profit on every Model S they sell, that was shown in their report. The problem is they are in the same situation as Saab was when they were bleeding cash, with one very major difference. Saab had the capability to produce a ton of volume, but had little demand. Tesla is working towards increasing their capacity to produce volume but at the moment is just stretching its legs, while they actually have high demand. I’d rather be Tesla in that case.

          • How do you figure that? Their 3q automotive sales were $50m, and the cost of automotive revenues were $58m. They are losing 15% on each car on a gross profit basis.

            • From their report:

              The third quarter was a fundamental turning point for Tesla as we successfully transitioned to a mass production car company, growing from manufacturing 5 cars per week at the beginning of the quarter to 100 cars per week by the end. That rate has doubled since last month and is now at over 200 cars per week or 10,000 cars per year, which is at the critical threshold needed for Tesla to generate positive operating cash flow. One month from now, we expect Tesla to double production again and achieve the target rate of 400 cars per week or 20,000 per year. Despite many short term costs associated with the ramp, Tesla nonetheless expects to get approximately halfway to the 25% gross margin target by end of year.

              Meaning at this moment with a 200 car per week output (which they actually just revised higher on the conference call) they are net positive for every model they build. Their 3Q ramp up is what led to last quarters discrepancies, but they specifically state that they’ve reached breakeven and will be at 25% margins by next year. That’s pretty damn good for a startup. So yes, they are now making money on every Model S they sell.

              • The next quarter will be crucial, to see if their forecasts are correct, because once you start producing them at 100’s a week, your company cash needs zoom.

                Tesla is the business nevs should emulate, I think. However, to be successful, at the moment at least, your product has to “look” like it belongs in the price band it sells at. The Tesla does. Maybe a Saab EV 2 will. A electric Saab 9-3 at the price it would probably project to be (given todays technology) doesn’t.

                We all know what happens when you step beyond your brand’s price parameters ( eg NG 9-5)

                • I completely agree with you.

                  How about a Saab EV 1 that looks brand new, and customers perceive as new. In other words the chassis is essentially a lightly modified 9-3 for electric use, with skateboard battery underneath (please NEVS, no central tunnel batteries), new sheetmetal to comply to the new pedestrian standards that looks completely Scandinavian and futuristic, and a much improved interior?

                  I think we should maybe have a little fun ironing out exactly what that Saab should look like in a future collaboration between the writers here with comment approval, Tim and I need to start planning the article series out.

    • It’s not that they’re losing money selling a product Zippy. It’s that they’re losing money setting up the infrastructure they need in order to sell their product. They had to build a dealer network from scratch, an assembly line, their own R&D labs, you name it. NEVS has many of the same hurdles, which is why Tim’s pieces about them trying to keep the infrastructure treading water and staying afloat are so crucial. While Tesla has seen huge demand for their cars, they have a slow rollout schedule in order to minimize any potential issues or problems. Their caution is warranted as Fisker has seen huge headaches from a product that was clearly rushed to market in order to generate revenue (dead batteries that have been recalled for instance). Saab needs desperately for their rollout to go smoothly.

      I’m not big on the “NEVS must” statements around here, but this one is pretty clear: NEVS must bring a well designed Saab EV (PHEV or BEV) to the right market and it will sell– there’s plenty of demand. But they must do it in a responsible way that preserves as much of Saab’s existing networks and personnel that makes sense to save capital and customers. Do it in a way that allows it to thrive in its own niche (which they seem to be targeting, premium EV for the same as a mass market EV). Most importantly, roll it out in a responsible manner without recalls, production issues or dealership woes. That’s a tall order, but I think NEVS is at least aware of the hurdles.

      • Jeff I didn’t think Tesla had a dealer network at all…. I know they don’t in Canada and I thought it was all of North America. If I’m wrong, I’m sorry but I thought I got that from their own PR’s.

        • No, they have dealers. They’re not owned by individual owners, but the company. Otherwise they’re fulling functioning dealers with sales people just like any other dealer. They also have stores in malls where you can see and play with a Model S, but you can’t actually buy one. You buy it online through a nearby dealer with a deposit then they contact you to arrange the rest of the sale. Dealer owners obviously don’t like seeing this as it disrupts their traditional model– I’d be upset as a dealer too, getting cut out of the sale would be a disaster. But customer satisfaction rates at Tesla dealers is apparently extremely high. You can’t say they’re not bending over backwards to take care of the customer though, from their own website:

          To make servicing of vehicles even more efficient and easy for customers, the company has a fleet of Tesla Mobile Service Rangers. Technicians travel to customers’ homes to perform any number of services which include, annual inspections, firmware upgrades, and other services. The mobile fleet allows customers to get vehicles serviced without worrying about the hassle of having to take their vehicle anywhere.

          Which isn’t to say they don’t charge for it, there’s actually several maintenance plans to choose from that cost anywhere from $500 to $3000, but they’re actually pretty competitive to standard maintenance schedules from other manufacturers.

          • not having a traditional dealer body is something that really bothers me and as a consumer it would be something I find worrisome for when the warranty period was over. Yes I know I come from a dealer background but I’d like the conventional dealer network over this anyhow. The mall store and ordering on line is not something I see as long term success but who knows, I may be wrong.

              • They are brick and mortar. They’re standalone and mall based. I’m getting the sense I need to write an article about it, and the more I research about it, the more interesting I think it will be. Stay tuned.

                Jason, you won’t like what Elon Musk has to say 😛 For a sneak peak, click here.

  3. So to assure that your already-overpriced and limited-range electric car is going to work during storms with power outages you need to pony up another $5000 for a natural gas generator? Thanks, but no thanks!

    • Did you lose power during Sandy, Jersey?

      I’m not suggesting a generator is necessary for the car to work during storm outages, there’s plenty of EV stations coming online with rapid charging that will be around by the time the first Saab EVs are on the market, even in New Jersey. Most of them have their own backup generation capabilities, from solar to gas. Because EVs will be such a small part of the market even for the next 5-10 years, getting the charge topped up there won’t be quite so logjammed, nor will it be dependent on gas being shipped in from refineries on tankers, it can be produced on the spot.

      What I’m saying moreso is that if you can afford an EV in the next 5-10 years new ($30-40K), you can most likely afford a generator for your home ($3-5K) and that it’s a reasonable consideration to get one. Did you lose your power for a week like many of my friends and family did? If so, did you too have to throw away a thousand dollars worth of groceries and wait in three hour lines for gas? The whole point of that story was that a generator completely insulates you from it, and it doesn’t just benefit your car but your whole life.

      If on the other hand you buy used 9000s for $4-6K or even 9-5s for $10-15K, that article probably wasn’t for you.

      • Fortunately we did not lose power, but I certainly have been in situations in the past where power was out for quite a while and try to be prepared. We have emergency provisions which include wood stove, portable generator, and quite a few old cars with large gas tanks that are kept full so we have gasoline on hand.

        There is no problem getting gas in the southwestern part of the state below Trenton, so if anyone in the affected area needs gas and at least has enough to get out here, head on down. Of course you’ll use some on the trip, but drive a reasonably efficient vehicle, bring a few gas cans, and you’ll still wind up with quite a bit for your trouble. I know that I would rather drive a few hours round trip than wait for hours in a gas line. (I have friends and family who are doing this.)

        I expect that many who spend big money on a car are stretching so far to do so that spending another $5K on a generator is not on the radar. (Not to mention that many of the whole house type generators run off natural gas, and in the aftermath of Sandy the flow was cut off in a number of areas.) Most people with pure electrics are just going to be stuck when the grid goes down. Liquid fuel gives you more options.

        Used 9000s for $4 to $6K? Excuse me, Mr. Rockefeller! That’s way too rich for my blood, I won’t spend that kind of money on a car. My current ride is a 9000 that cost the princely sum of $1500. I’m very much a believer in practicing what the Brits refer to as “bangernomics.”

        • Ha, Mr. Rockefeller, that’s rich! 🙂 Something tells me you aren’t the target customer for NEVS.

          I sure hope your friends and family get some relief soon. I know what you’re saying about getting gas and driving a few hours to fill up in a less affected area, and that there are areas without natural gas service along the immediate coast where houses were shifted off their foundations. All I’m saying is that having an electric car might be the tipping point for someone who was considering whole-home backup power, and pointing out Lyle Dennis’s story about how despite his neighbors frantically searching for fuel for their gas powered cars, he was set. I bet a lot of SU readers hadn’t even thought in terms of what to do in the case of a natural disaster and the grid– it’s interesting to consider.

          • Yeah, I’ve got the feeling that I’m not who NEVS is looking at as part of their expected customer base. 🙂

            For the record, if electric cars get to the point where the battery and recharge problems are really solved and one can buy a decent used one somewhere near the cost of an older conventional car I would probably do it. I won’t be holding my breath though. 🙂 For me the main attraction would be not having all of the maintenance headaches of a conventional drivetrain to deal with.

            Hopefully power will be restored soon to those areas that were battered down by Sandy, though now we have another storm heading our way to worry about…

            • I think the economic equation for used EVs to make sense will be a combination of factors from increased gas prices and the addition of battery recycling programs coming online that allows for batteries to retain higher residuals. I don’t see that happening anytime in the next 5 years. But for new cars off the showroom floor, the economics of EVs may already pay off for many consumers.

  4. Tks Jeff for this very interesting report. A lot of food for thought.
    Am I surprised the press only reported the Fiskers burning, not the Prii!

    • To be fair, the Fiskers really self-immolated themselves leaving only a few in tact, one Prius burned to the ground and the other two kind of just melted. But I get your point, the press seems to love a melting $100,000 car that Justin Bieber drives and Mitt Romney uses as a political football.

      Part of what upsets me about the mentality of Americans who root against companies who received DoE loans is that a) they either refuse to accept that they’re loans and are being paid back by 95% of their recipients (a higher rate than most excellent PE firms manage), and b) they’re so obsessed with proving a political point that they seem to be rooting against American success stories in nascent markets just because they’re anti-government assistance of any kind. They’d rather see companies like Fisker go bankrupt even if it means their taxpayer money won’t get paid back, just because they’re so ideologically pure. I get it, really, I do. But the loans were granted, the money dispersed and we have to live with that now– and ask if it’s really such a bad thing that the US Treasury will in most cases get paid back in full, that US jobs in high tech industries were created, and that we’re better off that these companies are headquartered here.

      And by the way, most of the funding for these companies is still from private capital, it’s just that the DoE is supplementing it in most cases to accelerate their progress and help spur production ASAP.

      • And don’t come at me with the “government picking winners and losers” argument. To question the fact that battery R&D is somehow a bad thing that won’t lead to increased fuel economy and thus lower dependence on carbon producing fossil fuels (and thus foreign government controlled fuel) is totally, completely inept. And the government didn’t pick the winners and losers, private venture capital firms already did– the government as I said only reinforced the existing players already widdled out by you guessed it, the capitalistic private market.

  5. This is another very interesting round-up of EV news.

    How are they going to solve the safety issue with the batteries, I wonder? This sort of thing is potentially fatal PR, for the companies concerned, the wider industry but most importantly – wonder – for humans driving the cars.

    Now, I realise that those were all parked vehicles Sandy hit, but consider a situation where somebody drives an EV into a deep flood and the fire starts when people are in the car. That might sound far-fetched, but where I come from there are a lot of very low-lying tidal islands and within the last decade, storm surges have swept across roads and flooded cars with seawater. I don’t understand too much about how quickly the fire catches on, and perhaps you can explain. If it takes a long time then there’s plenty of time for people to escape, but at the very least there is a theoretical risk that somebody could go up with the car, particularly after a collision, and that would be very bad indeed. It doesn’t matter if statistically this is exceedingly unlikely, so long as it is a possibility then people will be nervous about it, and the press will enjoy hyping it up, and therefore it is a problem to be solved.

    It sounds to me like designing an EV that simply cannot catch fire in this way under any circumstances, occupants or no occupants, could be a golden ticket for Saab to reclaim its crown as a world leader in auto safety.

    I hope there is still an EV parked outside the White House tomorrow

    • It’s a great question and one I hope Saab will safety test for: how long can a Saab EV stay submerged in salt water before the battery catches fire? Is there a way to prevent it? Is there a way to warn the driver if a fire is imminent?

      • Yes, there is fairly easy ways to prevent it. A fusing device in the battery cells, proper chemistry in the battery (and the NEVS seems Ok in this respect) and careful power routing. The problem seems to be solved in mobile phones.

    • The way these fires start is one of two ways. The obvious one is that the battery can deliver a lot of energy, so the salt water will make current flow, which results that in heating, just like regular heating. The other main issue is that overloading some kind of lithium cells to the point were they heat up above about 200C starts a chain reaction where the battery cell starts combusting inside (no external oxygen needed). The battery chemistry NEVS intend to use is supposed to not have this problem, the one used in the Volt does. The second type of fire (metal fire) basically can’t be put out by conventional fire fighting equipment.

      I haven’t seen any detailed reports, but the Fisker car problem looks suspisiously similar to what the second type of problem would result in.

      • As far as I know, the Karma’s battery by A123 systems uses the very same chemistry as NEVS plans to use, LiFePO4 (LFP or Lithium Iron Phosphate). So ya, that’s troubling. From A123:

        A123’s products are built using our breakthrough Nanophosphate® chemistry, a proprietary form of lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) which delivers high power and energy density, extended life cycling, and excellent safety performance. We manufacture cutting-edge products at the cell, module and system level, combining precision engineering with extensive applications expertise to assist customers in integrating our energy storage solutions into their products. From battery cells to fully-integrated energy storage systems, A123 has the proven technology and integration expertise to bring your applications from conception to commercialization.

        But here’s where it gets interesting when it comes to LFP chemistry, there’s an interesting discovery funded by US Government funding at MIT that in 2009 found a way to rapidly charge LFP batteries using a method of changing the way ions travel along a surface. It’s pretty freaking cool, and I’ll write a further article on it later if anyone’s interested. Apparently A123 is a licensee of this technology, and has spun it out for commercial use. I suspect this is their “Naophosphate®” process you see above. As the whole point of this chemistry is to accelerate the speed of the ions, I wonder if that has something to do with the batteries failure in salt water conditions. I wouldn’t be surprised.

        I’m curious to see if NEVS is implementing something like this with their battery, as they’ve said their LFP batteries are even more energy dense than “the competition” (which I’m assuming is mainly A123 and smaller makers). It’s going to be interesting to find out. This is a seriously, seriously important subject. While these articles I’m writing seem to be only peripherally related to Saab, in actuality they’re the very issues that NEVS is dealing with in order to build the new Saabs. In the past, we debated over turbos, cylinders, E85 and the like. The future involves lithium chemistry, magnets and kinetic energy recovery systems. It’s a brave new world.

        • I haven’t been worried about EVs catching fire until now. There are quite a few drivers each year who end up parked in salt water. Their chief concern is of course to get out of their vehicle before it sinks to the bottom of the ocean, but if they also have to worry about a fire at the same time… That can get very ugly very fast!

        • If you look at the original A123 26650 cell, it has actually been sucessfully run from full to empty at 150A without malfunction (getting proper connections and wiring is, though…). 70A is within spec continously with 120A peek. As long as you only have one cell, heating can be dealt with. Embedded in salt water, external heat will most likely not be the problem. In a crash, it may be, if you short 5000 26650 cells at once, the generated heat will be in the 5MW region. That’s one hell of a heater, heating 100kg of iron or 15kg of lithium about 100degrees C/second, you will most likely be looking at melted metal somewhere in less than a second if not properly fused.

          I would say this is most likely birth pains. You can solve this by poper chemisty, distributed fusing/overheating protection, waterproofing and careful packaging (to avoid domino effects). There have been fire problems with petrol cars as well in the past (and to some limited extent, still are for some car models).

          • I’m hoping the engineers in Sweden get to oversee the Chinese production operation and have some say on the packaging and safety characteristics. It’s not that I don’t trust Chinese quality control…eh, actually it is. If NEVS wants to be credible, they need every aspect of production to have a Swedish hand in the safety systems. It’s a material difference.

            • I agree. A traditional, rigorous and uncompromising Swedish hand in the safety systems hopefully will mean that NEVS Saab will be able to take advantage, in a sense, of the “birth pains” we are seeing reported here and, as Mair says, do more R and D to eliminate or at least massively minimize the potential for this kind of catastrophic fire to break out. Let us just hope that safety remains a no.1 priority within Saab and there is no repeat of the ng900 fiasco with regards to safety on this one.

  6. One electric component touched salt water for long period of time and this caused fire , based on newspaper report more than 300 fiskers were damage by superstorm Sandy and the insurance policy will cover all this mess. Karma fisker is going to investigate the root cause problem and prepare a domestic recall
    In my opinion a 100,000 usd EV car must be offer security and reliability

  7. I hate to be the one to mention this… but not only did they ration gas, no one had electricity… lol… So instead of waiting in line every other day for a few gallons of gas, you’d have ONE battery charge until your power came back on in… five, ten, twenty days? Doesn’t sound like it would be much better.

    • In fairness, in a natural disaster I don’t think it matters much what you have and for most driving would be an after thought. I know I couldn’t do much with rationed amounts of gas, I this I’d resort to taking transit to get around regardless of what I drove. What happens to gas prices in these situations too, I heard hotels were charging disgusting amounts, are gas companies the same? Nothing like hurting people further when they’re down.

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