Ola Recalls Over 1,400 E-Scooters: What's Causing EV Accidents, What Is The Way Forward?

Ola’s recall has followed Okinawa Autotech's recall of over 3,000 units and Pure EV's recall of around 2,000 units.

People riding Ola scooters

Citing an incident in Pune last month, Ola Electric has recalled 1,441 of its scooters to be inspected by its engineers and to put their battery, thermal, and safety systems through diagnostic tests.

Ola’s recall has followed similar recalls by other electric vehicle manufacturers. Okinawa Autotech recently recalled over 3,000 units and Pure EV recalled around 2,000 units.

These recalls have come in the midst of a series of incidents of fires and explosions in electric scooters and bikes in recent weeks that have taken several lives – most recently in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh where two people were killed in two separate EV-related explosions last week.

What are the incidents being reported with electric vehicles?

Last month in Pune, an Ola scooter burst in flames when it was parked on the roadside. The Ola scooters being recalled are from the same batch. However, Ola has said that its investigation so far into the Pune incident suggests it was an isolated incident.

Most of the accidents happen when the battery of the vehicle explodes, as was seen in last week’s accidents in Telangana’s Nizamabad in which an 80-year-old man was killed and in Andhra’s Vijayawada where a 40-year-old man was killed.  

Other than incidents of bursting into flames and explosions, general safety concerns have also been raised. A man from Assam wrote on Twitter that manufacturing defects in Ola’s scooter led to an accident of his son, causing him serious injuries.

Balwant Singh wrote, “My son had an accident due to fault in regenerative braking where on speed breaker instead of slowing, the scooter accelerated sending so much torque that he had an accident. The scooter went airborne crashing and skidding.”

What are the reasons for these accidents?

Experts have attributed these accidents to broadly three reasons – manufacturing defects, external damage, or a fault in the battery management system (BMS).

Fires in electric scooters’ batteries have also been compared to reports of fires and explosions in batteries of mobile phones. 

The BMS works as an oversight to EV’s battery pack. It monitors and regulates the charging, discharging, and temperature of batteries and protects from deep discharge and over-voltage to eliminate safety risks and maximise performance. There are also sensors in the BMS to monitor parameters mentioned above. 

Aravind Kumar Chandiran, a professor at IIT-Madras, highlighted that EVs in India run in very diverse climatic conditions and their users’ charging patterns are also diverse. 

“The algorithms in the BMS must be extensively tested for these dynamically varying conditions to facilitate best and safe performance of the batteries,” said Chandiran as quoted in WION. 

Inadequate testing of BMS or faults with its sensors could result in BMS not picking up some danger signs that might lead to a mishap. 

As the EV scene in India matures, testing and data would increase, and the situation should improve just like it improved with mobile phones that also reported explosions in the past but have now been perfected. Mobile phones also have BMS that can now warn of overcharging. 

What has been the response of companies?

Ola termed the Pune incident as an isolated incident and blamed overspeeding as the reason for the accident in Assam cited earlier in the story.

Another EV maker Okinawa blamed “negligence in charging the vehicle” as the cause for mishaps with its vehicles.

How has the government responded to increasing instances of mishaps?

The Union government has taken note of safety concerns with electric vehicles.

Niti Aayog last week released a draft battery swapping policy for electric vehicles and suggested incentives as well as a rigorous testing protocol for swappable batteries.

Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari last week directed manufacturers to voluntarily recall defective batches. He also announced in a series of tweets the formation of an expert committee that will look into reports of all the recent mishaps.

Gadkari said, “If any company is found negligent in their processes, a heavy penalty will be imposed and a recall of all defective vehicles will also be ordered.”