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China: Battery fluid leak may be a factor in China car fire: BYD exec

BEIJING (Reuters) – Flammable fluids leaking from a BYD electric car battery might have contributed to a fire following a high-speed fatal crash in China last month, a BYD executive told Reuters.

However, Stella Li, senior vice president of Warren Buffett-backed Chinese battery and car producer BYD Co., defended the safety of electric cars the company designs and sells in China.

Police are still investigating the crash, which occurred in Shenzhen, China, early on the morning of May 26 when a Nissan GT-R sports car traveling at least 180 kilometers per hour (110 mph) crashed into the BYD e6 taxi which later caught fire, according to BYD. The taxi driver and two passengers died.

“No car company could design an electric car or a gasoline-fueled car that could withstand a 180-kph crash, especially from being slammed from the backside,” Li said in an interview this week.

The BYD executive said it will likely be weeks, if not months, before police can say anything conclusive, if at all, on the cause of the fire. But she said there is “a big chance” that liquid electrolyte – one of the three primary functional components in a battery – may have leaked after the crash.

Those liquids may have caught fire, ignited by sparks from high-voltage cables or screeching wheels, said Li, who runs BYD’s U.S. operations in Los Angeles. BYD has sold about 500 e6 cars in China since last year, with at least half of them sold to taxi operators and other fleet customers.

The accident has triggered fears among some investors that automakers were over-confident about the safety of energy-packed batteries powering electric cars, and could be a talking point at BYD’s annual shareholders’ meeting on Friday in Shenzhen.

News reports and photos of the crash were widely circulated in China, and BYD’s shares fell to a seven-month low on May 28, the first trading day after the crash.

Some industry insiders worry the Shenzhen accident may impact more than just BYD’s electric car future.
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