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The BYD e6 taxi caught fire after it was hit from behind by a sports car traveling at a reported speed of 180 kilometers an hour. Xuan Hui / For China Daily
High-speed collision - Shenzhen e-taxi burns
A dramatic high-speed auto accident in Shenzhen that left an all-electric taxi and its three occupants incinerated has cast a shadow over public confidence in the new technology.
On May 26 a Nissan GTR sports car driven by a suspected drunk driver smashed into the rear of two taxis at an estimated speed of 180 km/h.
One of the taxis - an e6 electric made by BYD Automobile Co - caught fire and the driver and two passengers died at the scene. The other taxi rolled over and the driver was slightly injured.
Shenzhen traffic police said the high performance car hit the left rear of the electric taxi, which then lost control and crashed into trees along the road.
Police said they are investigating the cause of the fire and whether there was explosion.
Even before the exact cause of the fire was known, the accident aroused public concerns about the safety of BYD's electric cars and other similar vehicles.
The company said in a statement on May 29 that the e6 has passed authoritative crash tests and meets national safety standards.
It said that in the past two years, e6 taxis in Shenzhen have driven a combined 15 million km and have been involved in 18 previous rear-end accidents, but none caused fire or causalities.
BYD began to offer the e6 for taxi service in Shenzhen two years ago. About 300 e6 electric taxis are now on the road in the southern city in addition to 200 electric buses made by the company.
The statement from BYD said the extreme nature of the accident could have also caused a traditional gasoline vehicle to catch fire.
According to local media reports, a taxi driver surnamed Peng in Shenzhen who has driven the e6 for two years said he found fewer people are willing to take the electric taxis after the fiery crash. He said he believes it was just an accident, but the passengers need more explanations from BYD to clear their doubts.
Last year an electric taxi in Hangzhou made by domestic carmaker Zotye spontaneously caught fire. A report from the local government said the car's battery pack leaked and caused a short circuit.
Last November a Chevrolet Volt in the US caught fire in storage more than three weeks after a government crash test damaged its lithium-ion battery.
General Motors later made modifications to minimize the risk of fire after a severe crash and rollover.
The measures include extra steel around the battery pack to prevent vehicle parts from puncturing the battery case in severe crashes, a sensor to monitor coolant levels and a bracket to keep the coolant tank from overflowing.
In January the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration closed its investigation on Volt's batteries and said "based on the available data, the administration does not believe that Chevy Volts or other electric vehicles pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered vehicles".
BYD's statement said the Shenzhen accident will not affect the company's business development in new energy industry.
The company backed by billionaire Warren Buffett has plans to sell its electric vehicles in the US.
The carmaker produces both gasoline-powered and electric vehicles. It also operates a joint venture with German's Daimler AG that is developing electric vehicles under the independent brand Denza.
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(China Daily 06/04/2012 page18)