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A fishy story about faulty electric vehicles?

A fishy story about faulty electric vehicles?

A news story about a luxury electric vehicle catching fire went global last week, but did the media miss the real story?

With any new technology, safety is a concern to consumers. When people think about switching to an Electric Vehicle (EV), issues such as cost, reliability, safety and access to charging points will all feature. To that end, people need to feel safe with any new vehicle they drive and they are less likely to buy an EV if they think there is something inherently wrong with the battery technology in the vehicles. 

Peoples’ concerns would have been raised when, on Wednesday 11 April, a story appeared in the Mirror about a family who had lost their hybrid car in a fire while it was being charged.

The headline ran 'Hybrid to Hell: Family flee home after luxury car bursts into flames while charging'. The story soon appeared on LinkedIn feeds for renewable energy. Clive Southwell, an EV consultant, who knows what he is talking about, had made a comment.

 

The story involved a £56,000 Volvo XC90 hybrid car and £3,000 damage to a family home in Solihull, West Midlands. According to the article, the fire had started on the previous Sunday evening at 10:30pm and a couple with three young children, a pet rabbit and cat had to ‘flee their home’. 

Kids, a rabbit and a cat – almost too good to be true. You can see why the tabloids picked it up. But it also went viral, with stories published in the Daily Mail (by Laura Forsyth on 11 April 10:52 updated 16:35), The Times (by Graeme Paton 12 April 2018, 12:00am) and on BBC News (12 April) and Facebook via BBC Midlands. The trade press also joined the fray (e.g. Garagewire) and the issue was hotly debated on Youtube channels and social chat rooms like ‘PistonHeads’. By Friday 13 April news of the hybrid vehicle disaster was popping up around the globe, for example in South Africa.

Reading the story in more detail you find that:

• Miles Freeman, 46, the owner of the Volvo hybrid, works in battery recycling. So he should know about batteries.

• Freeman bought the ex-demo Volvo hybrid in October 2017 from a Volvo dealership. 

• The fire brigade arrived within five minutes of the 999 call and put out the fire. Not a big deal.

• The charging point was installed by a Volvo-approved company for £850 and Freeman received an OLEV government grant towards the installation. Quite normal. 

• Volvo sent an engineer to investigate the fire, offered to provide a loan car and was waiting for Freeman’s insurance details. Everything you would expect.

• Despite this, Freeman accused Volvo of 'not really caring' about the fire and said that he had 'struggled' to get answers from the Swedish car giant.

Freeman was also ‘quick’ with his story to the press, without checking crucial issues such as his CCTV first. And in doing so, provided all the information you could possibly want for a BAD news story. This was a particularly good BAD publicity story as it involved kids, rabbits, a cat, luxury home, and a luxury car. And the outcome, as Freeman had emphasised, ‘could’ve been disastrous.’

The post on LinkedIn had the indications of intelligent campaigning:

  • Used all the hashtags (#ev, #hybrid, #volvo, # plugin, #battery).
  • Comments about 'government grants' being given to rich people.
  • Use of an 'industry expert' Rubens Basaglia, (as we discuss below).

 

 So, is there more going on here than meets the eye?

Rubens Basaglia, an expert in alternative fuels technology, shared the story on LinkedIn. He added his own comment that 'not only the gasoline/gas vehicles fire!'.

Contrary to being an expert in electric vehicles, Basaglia is an expert in LPG and diesel. Miles Freeman also coincidentally works in battery recycling, as CEO of Aurelius Environmental which incorporates Aurelius Technology.  

Aurelius Technology holds an exclusive license from Cambridge Enterprise for the commercialisation of lead recycling from lead-acid batteries. Aurelius works with two companies in Brazil and in a press release from Cambridge Enterprise, Miles Freeman says: 'our aim is to deliver the Antares acid-recycling process to the UK and European markets, while simultaneously bringing the Aurelius paste-treatment technology to Brazil'.

Moreover, according to the Aurelius website: 'Lead recycling is a colossal business. In 2013, global recycled lead production rose to 6.1 million tonnes (source: ILA). All of the lead produced in the USA is recycled (i.e. secondary), while in Europe it comprises 70% of the market.'

Indeed, Dr Athan Fox (technology director at Aurelius) says that: 'The global lead-acid battery market is forecast to reach $84 billion USD by 2025.' 

It could be a coincidence that Freeman works on batteries which supply cars running on fossil fuels, but it is worth remembering that the battery in a Volvo XC90 Hybrid car is a Lithium-Iron battery, which is a totally different chemistry to lead-acid batteries. Lead-acid batteries are used in internal combustion engine vehicles. 

Maybe not all is as it seems with this story. There was certainly a rush to judgment. Indeed, there was a follow-up by the BBC, with the headline, 'Hybrid car fire 'started deliberately', CCTV footage reveals’. Miles Freeman had provided CCTV footage of the fire being deliberately started. For whatever reason, Freeman hadn’t checked the CCTV before going public in the Mirror. Now the incident was being treated as criminal damage by West Midlands Police. There was no need for an engineer’s report. But that was after the story had already gone global via social media. 

Perhaps the best post was this YouTube video. The fact that a transcribed YouTube video was made suggests that someone was keen to spread the anti-EV message. 

We’ve seen the same bad press for solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. Indeed, as the Building Research Establishment (BRE) argued last year: 'Over the past few years, there have been a number of media reports linking photovoltaic power systems (PV) with fire. With the prevalence of PV systems now in the UK, an increase in incident reports is to be expected.' 

Whilst the BRE continues to investigate the matter, when the stories reach the press they are always based on fear (i.e. fire/safety) and spread via social media. 

Many of the stories about 'solar PV fires' turn out not to be caused by the solar PV installation. But by the time you get the 'fire investigation report', the media story has already gone viral. Damage done.

  • Electric Vehicles
  • hybrid cars
  • fire
  • safety
  • Blogs
    Source: 
    SpinWatch

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