A couple months ago, BYD saw its stock take a big hit amidst speculation about the safety of its batteries when an e6 taxi caught fire in a fatal crash after getting rear-ended by a Nissan GT-R being driven at extremely high speed. Now, a government investigation has discovered that the batteries were not the cause of either the blaze, or the three deaths.
Apparently, it was the impact that killed the passengers. They, sadly, "suffered severe damage which exceeded the endurance limit of human bodies." As for the batteries, while 21 of the 96 lithium ion phosphate cells did experience secondary fire damage, none of them exploded despite serious deformation of the battery compartment. The initial ignition seems to have stemmed from arcing that spread to combustible materials.
While it could be argued that electricity played a part in starting the fire, it must also be remembered that every vehicle holds a significant amount of potential energy and that catastrophic damage may unleash it, whether that power is stored in the form of batteries or liquid fuel.
Perhaps because electric vehicles are relatively few in number, an accident like this gets a lot of media attention and, without all the facts at hand, incorrect conjecture arises. Vehicle fires are, however, already an unfortunate part of automotive reality. According to the National Fire Protection Association, 2010 saw 184,500 such events occur on our roads, and that number is a significant improvement (i.e., a decrease) over years past.
Indeed, it seems probable that replacing gas-powered vehicles with electrics will improve on this situation even further. How? Gas stations in the U.S. experience about 5,000 fires a year.