Canoo’s electric vehicle ambition has witnessed some minor excitement as the batteries inside a car started a fire.
The incident took place outside the California office of the startup, which used to serve as its headquarters. However, the fire did not affect any prototype vehicle.
Agnes Gomez-Koizumi, VP of communications, confirmed the incident to The Verge and explained what caused it. The lithium-ion battery module in question was involved in a destructive test, which she notes it passed without igniting. However, somebody inappropriately stored the module inside a sealed container. After the container became pressurized, the batteries ignited and started a fire.
The car involved was from a third party that Canoo had bought or rented, listed as a Ford in the incident report.
The make of the battery is not made known, although Canoo announced it was sourcing batteries from Sanyo, a subsidiary of Panasonic, in October.
Canoo, as a company, has been witnessing upheavals, with executives going out and coming in. it shed its chief technology officer and two co-founders this month, meaning no co-founders are remaining with the startup, out of a total of five.
However, Canoo still targets production in late 2022, with its electric vans slated to go first.
The fire incident at Canoo brings it in line with other EV startups, although their own incidents are more problematic. For example, during a road test, Faraday Future lost a preproduction vehicle in 2018 while a prototype pickup truck caught fire at Lordstown Motors earlier this year. In Canoo’s case, the battery module was in the cabin of a third-party vehicle while being transported.
After the fire was put out, an officer of the Los Angeles County’s Health Hazmat team investigated the incident. According to Health Hazmat’s guidelines, the lithium-ion battery remains were placed in a trash can filled with water. The estimated damage caused by the fire was $45,000, including loss of property worth $10,000.
Canoo’s facility has since reopened for business and is functioning normally. The fire department stayed on the scene for about three and a half hours.
The official cause of the fire was listed as a failure of equipment or heat source. The incident report also states contributing factors as improper container or storage procedure. Human factors included unattended or unsupervised personnel.
Fire incidents related to the battery in finished electric vehicles are rare, even less frequent than their internal combustion engine counterparts. Tesla reports that from 2012 to 2020, there was one fire incident per 205 miles driven for its cars. This compares favorably to one in 19 million average for the country during the same period. Tesla even included cases of arson and other unrelated reasons in its figures.
However, EV fires quickly make it to the headlines, just like the Canoo case, which apparently didn’t even involve an electric vehicle. Opponents of EVs seize on them to spread misinformation and scare the public.
This is not to say electric fires are not a real issue. They have been responsible for recalls, with the latest and perhaps biggest involving the Chevy Bolt. General Motors is in the middle of recalling more than 100,000 units due to a manufacturing defect in the battery that could cause a fire outbreak. The recall effort is estimated to cost GM about $1 billion, although LG Chem, the battery supplier, has agreed to foot most of the bill.
Some town authorities have even banned underground parking for EVs to prevent fire damage to older buildings where access to underground parking garages is difficult for fire-fighting equipment.
Meanwhile, fire departments have had to retrain their crew to deal with EV fires as they burn differently from other types of conflagration. This is a necessary step given that EVs are experiencing a boom, and more of them will be on the road in the nearest future.