Two Autolib Electric Cars Burn Down in Paris

By · October 16, 2013

One Bolloré Bluecar from the Parisian Autolib car sharing service burning

One Bolloré Bluecar from the Parisian Autolib car sharing service burning. This photo and others were posted on Twitter.

A Bolloré Bluecar from the Autolib car sharing service burned down to the ground on Monday morning in Paris. The fire was so big and so fast that it spread to the car parked in front of it, which was another Autolib car. The service had 2,000 cars. Now, it's down to 1,998. A police investigation is under way, and it might be a while before we know the actual cause of the first car's fire. Bolloré group didn't wait. As the Bluecar's manufacturer and Autolib's operator, it said barely three hours after the incident that it was probably vandalism. It might be true, but more and more people are asking questions.

One Bolloré Bluecar from the Parisian Autolib car sharing service burning

It sad but true that France is home to some disadvantaged young people with plenty of time to kill and little imagination for doing the right thing. The huge majority of quiet people hear about them on Friday and Saturday nights, with the most terrible time being New Year's Eve. Every year, in the worst suburbs of France, more than a hundred cars are set alight.

What happened on Monday in Paris doesn't fit that picture. It happened in a pretty good Parisian neighborhood, between 8 and 9 a.m. It wasn't the right time, nor the right place for crime. So, could there be something wrong with the car?

Fire had spread to the car in front. Two cars entirely burned down

The fire spread to the car in front. Two cars entirely burned down.

This would not be far-fetched. Owners of the Tesla Roadster ran into problems a few years ago by leaving their cars unplugged for a long time, only to find that their battery pack was bricked. The technology has advanced since then. Yet, EV owners often fully charge an EV before leaving for a long vacation, but then leave it unplugged while away—out of fear that something strange or dangerous will happen during that time.

Difficult to Know For Sure

Now, let's consider EVs used in car sharing services. They are plugged in all the time. After completing an Autolib trip, a user parks a car and has to make sure it gets plugged in—otherwise a penalty fee will be charged to your credit card.

Most cars are supposedly used every day, but the particular car where the fire started might have been sitting unused for several days. The Bolloré group hasn't provided details yet. There's no word about the car's age, but some cars are more than two years old, with more than 500 cycles of charging, so a technical failure cannot be ruled out. And we should not forget the very unusual characteristics of the Bluecar's Lithium-Metal-Polymer battery (LMP).

These are hot batteries, which need to be kept at about 75° Celsius. When a Bluecar is plugged in, the charger does more than just charging, it also keeps the battery warm. So if there's a heat-related incident, it is much more likely to happen with a LMP battery than with a standard lithium ion.

The fire this week is not the first incident of its kind. A total of 25 Bolloré Bluecars from the Autolib service have burned down so far. Looking at European statistics, this is the car most likely to be in a fire. Some fires were certified as crimes. One most notably, involved four cars southeast of Paris on a Saturday night between 1 and 2 a.m. This was clearly a crime, but doubt remains about what happened on Monday morning.

Frankly, there's not much hope for a clear and detailed explanation from the police. A car burning down is not the kind of stuff the police have much time to investigate. Hey, nobody got hurt. As sick as it sounds, only a fire with casualties—heaven forbid—would prompt the authorities to make a full investigation.

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