On April 24, 2022, Ola Electric announced that it’s voluntarily recalling 1,441 of its electric scooters in India. The reason: In late March, 2022, one of its scooters reportedly caught fire in Pune. The Indian government recently announced that it will impose strict penalties on EV makers found to be negligent in cases where vehicles catch fire. This move comes after some other electric scooters from some other electric scooter makers also caught fire in recent months.
"Our internal investigation into the March 26 vehicle fire incident in Pune is ongoing and the preliminary assessment reveals that the thermal incident was likely an isolated one," read Ola’s press statement, as reported by the Economic Times of India.
“As a pre-emptive measure, we will be conducting a detailed diagnostics and health check of the scooters in that specific batch and therefore are issuing a voluntary recall of 1,441 vehicles,” it concluded. The scooter that caught fire in Pune was a single Ola S1 Pro, and no other similar reports have been made so far.
However, this is the third recall from an electric scooter maker selling in India in the past few months. Previously, Okinawa recalled 3,215 of its Praise Pro scooters. Then, Pure EV recalled 2,000 of its own scooters. These incidents have been blamed on battery faults, which resulted in sudden fires—and which understandably have some people concerned. After all, no one wants to think a vehicle they’re riding (or driving) might suddenly catch fire with no warning.
Some have been quick to say that poor thermal management is the culprit—and have also correlated these issues with India’s recent spike in ambient temperatures. It’s currently summer in India, and the temperatures have been rising. However, correlation is not causation—and EV startup Exponent Energy claims that a phenomenon known as thermal runaway is to blame.
Under that process, lithium-ion batteries can heat up, which is exacerbated by the ambient temperature increase. Under the right circumstances, the battery’s temperature could spike uncontrollably. This could damage the battery—and also cause a fire. There are thermal safety measures that battery-makers can and do employ, such as automatic shutoffs once a battery reaches a certain temperature—which Exponent says is the case with most modern batteries. However, with some older or less efficient designs, this could pose a problem.
In any case, as more vehicles make the transition to electric, it’s important to get all the hiccups ironed out so people can safely and confidently make the switch. Ola only had one scooter catch fire before issuing its recall—so it’s good that the company is getting on top of the problem immediately.