Chinese electric vehicle Weltmeister Motor (WM Motor, 威马汽车) had one of its EX5 test vehicles spontaneously combust at its research institute in Chengdu,  according to local media.

The news comes at a bad time for the Chinese electric vehicle maker—the explosion occurred on August 25, just one month before a mass delivery of the cars to customers.

The vehicle, which was an early test model that had recently been subjected to multiple rounds of destructive testing, allegedly ignited during dismantling procedures. The company said that the process was not completed after circuit protection devices were removed, causing a short circuit.

A company insider claims that employees at the research institute violated regulations by charging the test vehicle during the end-of-life process causing it to catch fire. According to the individual, the people responsible have been punished.

Customers are questioning the official and unofficial statements, resulting in the cancellation of orders. Concerns were raised over whether the battery played a role in the fire. The company has denied these allegations.

Weltmeister is one of many companies that have been described as China’s answer to Tesla. Competition within the premium EV space has been heating up, with players like NIO, Xpeng, and Byton securing funding and pursuing IPOs.

Weltmeister has received a total of $1.2 billion in funding, with its latest round being completed in December 2017. The company is backed by both Tencent and Baidu, giving it access to the content and connectivity of both companies.

The market for electric vehicles in China has grown enormously over the past few years. In 2017, over 770,000 units were sold, up 53% compared to 2016. This number is expected to reach one million during 2018 compared to 400,000 in the US. Both the private and public sectors are investing in electric vehicles. As of July, the total of number charging piles for new energy vehicles in China exceeded 660,00 with 275,000 of them built by the government.

Christopher Udemans is TechNode's former Shanghai-based data and graphics reporter. He covered Chinese artificial intelligence, mobility, cleantech, and cybersecurity.

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