The first known instance of a plug-in hybrid car going up in flames occurred on June 7 in Columbia, South Carolina to a 2008 Prius that had been converted to plug-in capability for the Central Electric Power Cooperative. The conversion was performed with a Hybrids-Plus PHEV15 conversion kit that uses an A123 Systems lithium ion battery pack. The incident is still under investigation by Phoenix, Arizona-based Electric Transportation Engineering Corporation. Initial information indicates the fire may have been triggered by something related to the on-board battery charger and the car had previously experienced some mechanical issues related to that.

Unfortunately, the car didn't have a data logging system installed which might have helped to isolate the cause. No one was injured and the battery pack sustained some damage but was apparently intact and functional - implying that it was not the cause of the fire. What this points out is that before plug-in hybrids and EVs are brought to market a lot of engineering and validation testing needs to be done to ensure that all systems in the car are safe, durable and properly integrated. This is actually the part of vehicle development that often takes the most time. It's not just the batteries that have to work, but all the bits and pieces around it. That's why it's taking almost four years from concept to production for the Volt and why Toyota is in no rush to bring the PHEV Prius to market.

[Source: Cooperative Research Network, thanks to the un-named reader for the tip!]

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