One promising technology that is soon to hit production will
come in the form of plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEVs). New production
vehicles from General Motors and Toyota will feature onboard battery packs
which can be recharged via a standard household outlet. In the case of the
Chevrolet Volt, the vehicle can travel
40 miles with a fully charged battery.
Although production models are still a few years away, that
hasn’t stopped third-party manufacturers from retrofitting existing hybrid
vehicles to accommodate plug-in hardware. DailyTech
previously reported that Lithium Technology Corporation (LTC) retrofitted
a Toyota Prius to incorporate both lithium-ion batteries and plug-in technology.
Likewise, UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies' Plug-In Hybrid Center
sponsored a program last year to equip
100 Northern California households with plug-in Priuses.
Testing of the various Priuses retrofitted to accept plug-in
modules have gone relatively smoothly -- until now. The Cooperative Research
Network (CRN) reports that a Toyota Prius PHEV owned by Central Electric Power
Cooperative (CEPC) and retrofitted with a Hybrids-Plus PHEV15 conversion kit exploded
on June 7.
The Prius in question had previously been experiencing
charger-related malfunctions, but was still allowed to operate in the test fleet. On
its final voyage, the driver noticed that the back seat caught on fire -- the
driver then quickly pulled over to the side of the road and was able to exit
the vehicle. Shortly after the driver fled the vehicle, "there was a
subsequent explosion" according to CRN.
There was little damage to the A123-manufactured lithium-ion
battery pack which suggests that some other hybrid component could have been
the cause of the fire and subsequent explosion -- this could be somewhat of a
relief to many who still express reservations with regards to installing
numerous lithium-ion cells in passenger vehicles.
Unfortunately, there was no data logger present on the Prius
so it may be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of the fire. Hopefully, the
data gathered as the investigation goes forward will allow future PHEV auto manufacturers
to provide us all with safe, reliable vehicles.