India’s Deadly Electric Scooter Fires Prompt New Battery Policy

India's Union government is on the verge of releasing standards for electric vehicle batteries, after more than a dozen recent incidents of electric scooters catching fire, resulting in at least five deaths. The policy is expected to cover performance testing and manufacturing standards along with battery heat resistance.

Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari on April 26 urged electric two-wheeler manufacturers to be "cautious" when deploying battery cells in vehicles. He said any failure to be wary would derail the government's move towards faster adoption of cleaner vehicles.

India committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2070 at the 26th Conference of the Parties to the UN Climate Change Convention (COP26) in November 2021. The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi recognizes that this will require "clear pathways to decarbonize high greenhouse gas (GHG) intensive sectors such as transport and energy."

"To decarbonize transport, the transition to clean mobility, led by electric vehicles (EVs), is paramount," the Union government says in its draft Battery Swapping Policy dated April 21, 2022.

This policy views exchanging discharged batteries for charged ones as a solution to battery fires, which can happen during charging.

It states that "India is on the cusp of an e-mobility revolution led by the two-wheeler (2W) and three-wheeler (3W) vehicle segments. 2Ws account for 70-80 percent of all private vehicles, and 3Ws play a critical role for public transit, freight transport and last mile connectivity in cities."

While the battery swapping policy is in the public comment stage through June 5, Gadkari warned that stricter battery standards are also under consideration.

Gadkari said the Road Transport Ministry has ordered an investigation into the battery fire incidents by the Centre for Fire, Explosives, and Environment Safety. The government is waiting for investigation reports on the incidents and will soon issue standardized rules and a strong testing protocol, the minister said.

Though Gadkari said that high temperatures in March and April may have had something to do with the batteries developing problems, he stressed the importance of quality control by manufacturers.

He asked EV makers to take "advance action" to recall all defective batches of their vehicles immediately, test them and address the issue.

To date there have been very few fires in electric cars, showing that it is the batteries used in two-wheelers that are the main concern, he said.

A container truck carrying electric scooters caught fire on the Mumbai-Agra national highway in Nashik (Screengrab from YouTube video courtesy ElectricVehicles.in)
A container truck carrying electric scooters caught fire on the Mumbai-Agra national highway in Nashik (Screengrab from YouTube video courtesy ElectricVehicles.in)

In just the past few weeks, over a dozen electric scooters have caught fire, including those manufactured by Ola Electric, Okinawa, Pure EV and Jitendra EV. To see Pure EV's long list of instructions for battery charging, click here.

The latest tragedy was reported in the city of Nizamabad, in the state of Telangana, where the battery of an electric scooter made by Pure EV exploded in a home on Wednesday, killing an 80-year-old man and injuring two others, according to police.

Earlier this month, more than 20 electric scooters made by Jitendra EV caught fire while being transported from the factory in Nashik.

Last month, an Okinawa scooter erupted into flames in Vellore, Tamil Nadu state, claiming the lives of a man and his 13-year-old daughter.

Ola Electric said it is recalling more than 1,400 of its electric scooters after one of its scooters burst into flames while parked beside a road in the city of Pune in March.

"Our internal investigation into the March 26 vehicle fire incident in Pune is ongoing and the preliminary assessment reveals that the thermal incident was likely an isolated one," Ola Electric said in a statement.

"As a pre-emptive measure, we will be conducting a detailed diagnostics and health check of the scooters in that specific batch and therefore are issuing a voluntary recall of 1,441 vehicles," the company said.

Ola Electric said the scooters being recalled will be inspected by its service engineers and will be checked across all battery, thermal and safety systems. The firm said its battery pack already complies with and is tested for AIS 156, the latest proposed standard for India, in addition to being compliant with the European standard ECE 136.

The other companies have said they are investigating possible reasons behind the fires that engulfed their vehicles.

Pure EV has initiated a recall of 2,000 electric scooters, and Okinawa has announced it is recalling more than 3,000 EVs to check them for potential safety issues.

Earlier this week, Minister Gadkari said that if EV makers are found "negligent in their process," the government will impose a heavy penalty and order a recall of all their defective EVs.