Eight dead after fire at electric motorbike showroom in India amid mounting EV safety concerns

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Eight people died and several others were injured in an overnight fire which started in an electric bike showroom and engulfed a hotel in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad.

Photos and videos show a frantic rescue operation late on Monday as several people collapsed amid thick smoke and two people jumped from the window of the four-storey building.

This is one of the latest and most horrific incidents of e-scooters catching fire in the country as concerns grow over the safety of the vehicles that the Indian government is planning to push as part of its green efforts.

All the victims were staying in a lodge located above the showroom, senior police official Deepti Chandana said. The incident occurred in the Secunderabad area of the city.

“When police reached here, the showroom and the lodge were engulfed in thick smoke. First responders and firefighters were able to rescue a few persons using ladders,” she described to the reporters present at the scene.

“Some rescuers went up the stairs and brought down at least six persons who were unconscious. They had collapsed near the staircase due to some inhalation.”

“The causes of the fire are yet to be ascertained. All the electric bikes in the showroom were gutted,” she said.

An inquiry has been initiated to find out the cause of the accident but the police told Indian media outlets that the fire started from the cellar where 40 electric bikes were parked.

It is suspected that these bikes were kept in charging mode in the evening, possibly leading to the fire.

The owner of the lodge has also been booked for inadequate fire safety arrangements.

“The lodge had 25 customers on four floors at the time of the fire accident and they had only one exit. They were trapped inside. We have registered an FIR against Rajender Singh Bagga and his two sons. The investigation is on,” one officer was quoted by the Indian Express as saying.

The newspaper also reported that the owners of Ruby Motors were running the e-bike business illegally from the cellar of the building where the explosion occurred.

While the state government and the central Narendra Modi government have both announced compensation for victims, questions over the safety of electric vehicles have grown in recent years with several incidents of scooters catching fire.

Chennai reported four cases of e-scooter related fire in four days in March this year. Since then there have been a spate of similar cases.

On 26 March, a Twitter user posted a video of a black Ola e-scooter engulfed in plumes of smoke which went viral on social media. Another fatal fire that started from a battery-powered Okinawa scooter reportedly killed a father and a child in southern Tamil Nadu state.

These incidents come as sales of electric scooters have more than doubled in India in recent years. They are touted to be driving the country’s electronic vehicle market, unlike in the West where cars like Tesla drive the growth.

Scooters as cheap as £1,000 pounds or less emerged as a convenient option for the middle class in India for the country’s congested roads.

The Indian government wants electric scooters and motorbikes to make up 80 per cent of the total two-wheeler sales by 2030. The government has been providing a push to the electric vehicle market and plans to build better support infrastructure like charging stations.

But there are deeper issues with e-scooters in India. EVs are powered by lithium-ion batteries that are considered to be safer and more efficient and lighter as compared to their counterparts. However, these batteries do pose a fire risk if they are improperly manufactured.

Experts have often pointed out that the main issue is short circuits in batteries which are caused due to poor-quality cells or inept battery management systems.

The government has also constituted an expert committee to look into the causes and hold companies responsible for poor testing standards.

However, there is also a debate about how much blame should be assigned to India’s worsening heat. Some experts say because the components of the scooter are not tested for the extreme temperatures India faces they are more likely to catch fire, while other rebuff the idea.

But overall calls to bolster India’s testing parameters are set to grow as the country embarks on an EV revolution.