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  6. Myth versus reason

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Myth versus reason

Although today’s electric vehicles are starting to appeal to increasing numbers of professional user groups thanks to longer ranges and shorter charging times – one myth steadfastly persists: according to conventional wisdom, the batteries pose an increased fire hazard. Just so it’s clear from the start, this is not the case. Nor do passengers need to worry about the potential hazards of high-voltage technology.

A familiar scene from action movies: the hero’s car is forced off the road, rolls over several times, the engine compartment immediately catches fire as petrol seeps from the wreckage. Everyone knows what happens next: in just a few seconds, the car will explode. Yet the valiant warrior on all fours escapes danger by a hair’s breadth.

Cut. Back to the real world. To a world where the breakneck manoeuvres described almost never happen and car fires are at least only extremely rare. Not even one percent of all accidents give rise to flames and an explosion is nigh on impossible – and this is despite the highly flammable fuel on board. So what is the situation with an electric vehicle? Various media reports and comment columns map out a certain risk for company fleets: electric and hybrid vehicles, according to statements, can catch fire easily – their high-voltage systems and batteries are veritable powder kegs.

According to ADAC: this fear is unfounded
Electric cars are actually just as safe as combustion engine vehicles, as confirmed by various tests carried out by ADAC, for example. The tests looked both at crash safety and the subsequent and general risk of fire. “An electric vehicle catching fire is likely to attract considerable attention, since the technology is still new and people and the media are accordingly alert – but the fear is unfounded”, states the Automobile Club on its website. “There is currently no evidence that electric cars are more likely to catch fire than combustion engine cars, with or without being involved in an accident.”

The Volkswagen Group brands are obviously leaving nothing to chance to ensure that this assessment does not change. Dr Michal Bruna is responsible for electronics development in the battery development centre of Volkswagen Group Components in Braunschweig. One of his tasks is to perform comprehensive safety checks for battery systems before they can even be considered for use in electric cars. “The safety of drivers is what matters most to us”, stresses the Czech native. “That’s why every battery version, including the software, has to proves its safety in more than 5,000 individual tests.”

Thorough tests provide certainty
Tests are carried out to simulate the entire life cycle of a battery: “We expose the battery systems to mechanical shocks, as can occur with roadside curbs, level crossings or rockslides.” His team also simulates extreme environmental conditions, such as thermal shock immersion. “At the end, we dismantle every battery system and check the condition.” Further safety tests are carried out at the Salzgitter and Wolfsburg sites until each individual battery is checked again before use in battery production.

The construction of the car ensures additional safety: “The battery is located between the car’s axles and is therefore already well protected by the vehicle architecture”, explains Bruna. Nonetheless, should the battery take a hit in an unusually heavy crash, the battery system disables automatically when the airbag is deployed. It can then only be started again after a thorough safety check in the workshop.

The electronics also give no cause for concern
Circuit breakers and numerous sensors additionally ensure that even the high-voltage system of an electric vehicle need not worry anyone. The technology cuts all lines as soon as something starts to go wrong. The risk of a serious electric shock in and after an accident is therefore ruled out in the same way as when charging the battery. Current only flows after the automatic system checks by the car or charging station detect a safe connection. Even rain, thunderstorms, floods or a trip through the car wash pose no threat. What is certain though: Hollywood will probably quietly ignore these arguments …

News on the topic

Status: 29. October 2021

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