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BYD Releases Details About Electric Taxi Fire

BYD Releases Details About Electric Taxi Fire

HONG KONG — 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.

U.S. regulators conducted five crash tests of Chevrolet Volt gasoline-electric hybrids last year; the battery pack of one vehicle ignited three weeks after the test. Regulators later declared the cars to be as safe as gasoline-powered cars, but the fire nonetheless hurt Volt sales.

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.
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