With electric vehicle adoption picking up steam in major markets such as the United States, there have been increasing reports of EVs catching fire and requiring gallons of water to put out. Extinguishing a regular car fire takes around 1,000 to 2,000 liters of water while an electric car fire can take up to 150,000 liters of water to be put out.
The potential for lithium-ion batteries to overheat and catch fire, coupled with the insane amount of water needed to put out electric vehicle fires, has raised fears that electric cars may present a significant danger to urban populations. However, while the media does seem to be filled with stories of electric cars catching on fire, the truth is that electric vehicle fires are quite rare.
In fact, electric vehicle fires are so rare that statistics show internal combustion engine (ICE) cars are 20 to 80 times more likely to catch fire compared to EVs. Electric bikes and scooters also have a higher chance of catching fire compared to EVs, making electric cars relatively fire-safe compared to other vehicles on the road.
According to an Australian company that tracks passenger EV fires globally, electric vehicle fires make up a very small portion of total vehicle fires. EVFireSAFE found that there were only 393 verified EV fires between 2010 and June 2023 out of an estimated 30 million electric cars that are active on the road.
The data shows that although electric vehicle fires are more severe in magnitude compared to ICE vehicle fires, they occur with significantly less regularity. There were just four EV fires in Australia during the same period, and one was connected to arson while the other three EVs were parked in structures that burned down, meaning there technically hasn’t been a case of spontaneous EV combustion in Australia for more than a decade.
However, Australia may not be the best example because of its low electric vehicle numbers. Consider Sweden, a nation with the third-highest rate of EV adoption in the globe and a significantly larger data pool to consider. The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency released a report in May 2023 outlining that ICE vehicles in Sweden were 20 times more likely to combust spontaneously compared to electric cars.
Of the electric vehicle-related fires Sweden recorded in 2022, more than one-half were electric scooters and bikes. Statistically, fires affected only 0.004% (23) of Sweden’s 611,000 electric cars last year. Electric vehicle fires may be challenging to deal with, but long-term data shows that EV fires are still quite a rarity.
Given that companies such as QuantumScape Corp. (NYSE: QS) are investing in developing other safer battery chemistries, such as solid-state batteries, the likelihood of EV fires could decrease even further.
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