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Beijing moves to monitor EV safety
Yang Jian | 2018/9/28

SHANGHAI -- The Chinese government¡¯s decadelong subsidy program has led to the creation of the world¡¯s largest market for electrified vehicles. But the government has largely failed to pay attention to the vehicles' safety. 

It finally responded this week and started deploying a nationwide check on the safety of the vehicles. 

The move may expose a reality not as pleasant as the green propaganda trumpeted by the government but it is essential to ensuring sustainable development of the domestic electrified vehicle market.

In 2009, Beijing started doling out generous subsidies for electrified vehicles.  Sales of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids have since kept forging ahead.

In the first eight months of this year, some 601,000 electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids were delivered across the country, an advance of 88 percent from the same period last year. Among those vehicles sold during the period, around 75 percent were EVs.

By the end of August, cumulative sales of EVs and plug-in hybrids over time in China has topped 2.34 million. 

Despite the proliferation of electrified vehicles, media reports of accidents spurred by defective electrified vehicles remain rare in China. 

In the past decade, the only accident concerning an electrified vehicle that was widely reported by Chinese media dates back to 2012, when a Nissan GTR crashed into an electric taxi produced by BYD Co. in the south China city of Shenzhen. 

The taxi immediately caught fire and exploded, resulting in the death of all three passengers. After investigations, local police and China¡¯s product quality regulator concluded the drunken driver of the Nissan GTR, not the electric taxi, was to blame for the fatal crash.

But are EVs and plug-in hybrids on Chinese roads really as safe as they seem to be? They are not. 

Every newspaper and TV station in China is a government affiliate, so they are reluctant to generate reports critical of the domestic electrified vehicle industry that the government fervently supports. 

The reality is that as electrified vehicle sales have kept surging, the number of models dogged by safety and other problems has increased as well, according to independent market research firms and online publications. 

GG Lithium Battery Industry Research Institute, a Shenzhen market research company, says that at least 37 electrified vehicles have caught fire in China so far this year. Electric Vehicle Observer, a website in the south China city of Guangzhou, says the number is 39. 

To date, no government agency has probed the incidents cited by GG Lithium Battery and Electric Vehicle Observer suspects the main culprit is defective batteries.

In the past few months, an increasing number of market researchers and industry analysts have expressed concerns over the safety of electrified vehicles on various occasions. That eventually prompted government agencies to take action. 

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued a notice, requiring all domestic companies that engineer and build electrified vehicles and delivery vans to check and monitor vehicle safety. 

Companies are required to report results to the ministry by Nov. 15. Companies whose vehicles have caught fire must report the incident within 12 hours. If the accidents result in human death, vehicle makers must alert the ministry within six hours, according to the notice. 

In the notice, the ministry also pledged to launch investigations into accidents, along with other related government organizations, once it is notified.

Annual sales of EVs and plug-in hybrids are expected to top 1 million this year and reach 2.5 million by 2020. 

As more of these vehicles hit the road, the unsafe models among them will pose even graver risks to human life and society at large. Left unaddressed, the risks could also stymie the spectacular growth of the electrified vehicle market.

The Chinese government must establish a robust system to ensure the safety of electrified vehicles. What the ministry did this week is only the first step in the right direction. 

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