A driver was killed during a fiery crash after rear-ending a school bus with his electric van in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen on Tuesday, ushering in a new wave of EV safety concerns among Chinese consumers.

Why it matters: A rare loss of human life, the incident is one of the several EVs catching fires over the past month in Chinese major cities, a big blow for the market already going through an extended slump.

  • Aware of a rising concern that EVs and batteries are hazardous, Chinese authorities earlier this month issued three national standards regarding safety requirements on electric cars with tougher standards on electric buses and car batteries.
  • The government is rushing to enhance the ability to detect and deal with fire risks and other hazards related to EV safety with the release of new testing requirements.
  • The mandatory safety regulations will come into effect since Jan. 1, 2021.

Details: An electric van hit the back of a school bus at an intersection in the downtown Futian district of Shenzhen on Tuesday early morning and immediately combusted. The van driver was killed in the incident, Shenzhen traffic police said on Chinese microblogging platform Weibo.

  • The driver sat locked inside the vehicle for unknown reasons, and was still alive waving his hands for help at first, until smoke and flames filled the van.
  • “There was a person in the van …. and he burned to death,” a bystander said in a video spreading on Chinese social media.
  • There were 44 students on the school bus, but no one was injured, members of the local fire brigades told Chinese media.
  • Authorities are investigating how the incident occurred with the driver’s identity and details of the van yet to be released.
  • Rumors spread that the van was an Naveco, a commercial automaker jointly formed by Iveco, a company under the Fiat Group, and China’s largest automaker SAIC.
  • A company representative told Chinese media that it is currently under internal review, without giving further details.

Context: Reports of several electric cars catching fire is once again casting a shadow over struggling Chinese EV.

  • A Li One, Lixiang’s first mass production plug-in hybrid SUV, spontaneously combusted on the street in Changsha, capital of the central Hunan province earlier this month.
  • The Beijing-based EV startup, also known as Li Auto, late last week attributed the case to a piece of car paint matress attached to the car’s exhaust pipe, insisting that the car’s powertrain, batteries, and gasoline engine were not damaged.
  • “The EV craze should cool down,” a Chinese Weibo user going by the handle “Yinghuazhu” commented in a Weibo post about the EV car fire, getting 143 likes, while another responded by saying EVs “combust almost every crash, not safe enough.” (our translation)

Jill Shen

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: jill.shen@technode.com or Twitter: @yushan_shen