BYD releases new details about Electric Taxi fire, says e6 hit a tree
Published on May 30, 2012 by Joey Wang
The best-known Chinese manufacturer of electric cars released Tuesday the details of a crash and fire that destroyed an electric taxi and killed its three occupants in southern China early Sunday morning and said any gasoline-powered car also would have been destroyed by the impact.
Chinese news media reports Monday about the fire had caused alarm on the Internet in China and in financial markets by reviving fire safety concerns about electric cars. The crash involved a car built by BYD, in which Warren Buffett bought a 10 percent stake in 2008.
The crash early Sunday involved an e6 battery-electric car that was hit from behind by a Nissan GT-R sports car. But BYD said Tuesday that a police investigation had already found the sports car was racing at a speed of at least 180 kilometers, or 112 miles, an hour when it hit the electric car from behind.
Mr. Lin said the e6 was traveling 80 kilometers an hour at the time of impact. The e6 spun across three lanes of traffic and the already damaged back end of the car slammed into a tree with such force that the tree sliced the car open from the rear bumper all the way through the rear seats, said Paul Lin, the marketing director and chief spokesman for the company.
The battery packs of the e6 are underneath the rear seats. BYD said that the authorities in Shenzhen, next to Hong Kong, had not yet handed the car over to the company’s inspectors, and neither the police nor the company had determined what caused the fire.
“We don’t know what happened — the battery pack burned or the high-voltage gear burned or the fabric was lit or maybe some other reason,” Mr. Lin said.
BYD and the local police do not know whether the three occupants died in the crash or in the fire, he said. But seat belt use is very low in China, and survival rates for high-speed crashes are also low.
Mr. Lin added that no car could have withstood the impact: “Maybe a tank, maybe a truck could survive it.”
After BYD released a statement Tuesday describing the crash, its shares rallied 5.5 percent in Hong Kong trading, closing at 16.08 Hong Kong dollars, or $2.07. The shares had slumped 5.9 percent Monday on initial reports of the fire.
The South China Morning Post, a daily newspaper in Hong Kong, reported Tuesday that propaganda officials from Guangdong Province, which includes Shenzhen, had ordered the news media in the province not to emphasize in their reporting that an electric car had been involved in the fire.
A photo of a police officer with the destroyed taxi, released by BYD Tuesday, appeared to support the company’s contention that the vehicle had hit a tree at extremely high speed, with a treelike indentation extending far into the back of the vehicle.
Tree impacts are deadly in the United States, which is why many tree-lined roads have guard rails; these rails are rare in China, and a photo of the crash site released by BYD showed a tree about 15 centimeters, or 6 inches in diameter with no sign of a guard rail.
“I drive that road every day — there’s no guard rail,” Mr. Lin said. “It is supposed to be the most beautiful road in Shenzhen; it is a seaside road.”
Mr. Lin said that after hitting the e6, the Nissan ricocheted into another car, causing that car to roll over while the sports car came to a stop on the road.
Chinese news media reported that the sports car driver was a drunken man accompanied by three women. The occupants of the sports car were not seriously hurt and the driver fled. A man later turned himself into the police to take responsibility for the accident, but the Chinese news media questioned whether he had been hired to do so, as he did not show any signs of having been in a crash.