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Converted PHEV Destroyed by Fire

A converted Prius plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) owned by Central Electric Power Cooperative in Columbia, SC, was destroyed by an internal fire on 7 June. The fire occurred during a routine drive, according to a report on the website of the Cooperative Research Network (CRN), a service of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

There were no injuries. The cause of the fire has yet to be determined.

The 2008 Toyota Prius was outfitted with a Hybrids Plus 4.5 kWh PHEV-15 conversion pack which the company builds itself with 26650 cells from A123Systems. (Earlier post.)

According to the CRN report, the vehicle, which had no data logger installed, had previously experienced minor mechanical issues relating to the charger.

The upholstery in the back seat caught on fire during routine highway driving. The driver pulled over, exited the car, and there was a subsequent explosion. The lithium-ion battery pack was damaged but remained largely intact and functioning.

CRN has employed Electric Transportation Engineering Corporation (ETEC) of Phoenix, AZ, to perform an initial investigation on the PHEV. The firm will work to determine the cause of the fire and make recommendations if more specialized forensics experts are needed to complete the investigation.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Ric Fulop, A123System’s co-founder and vice president of business development, said that the preliminary finding was that the cells didn’t cause the incident. Carl Lawrence, CEO of Hybrids Plus in Boulder, Colorado, said the fire may have resulted from a wiring flaw when Hybrids Plus assembled the cells into a battery.



Thomas the Tank Engine would describe these accidents as "teething troubles".

Kit P

This is why PHEV should be tested by the folks who work at our electric utilities who are trained in electrical safety before mom has a baby in a strapped in a car seat.

John Taylor

There is a car fire every 96 seconds in the USA . Most of these start due to electrical short circuits.
Finding a bad connection in a system that was hand-modified is sort of expected. This is why conversion voids the manufactures warranty.

The bonus here is seeing that the Lithium batteries stood up under real world catastrophic conditions.


I was one of those motorcyclists who put the shop rag on top of the lead acid battery under the seat, luckily it was only smouldering when I lifted the seat.
More recently one battery in a 24 volt tractor contacted the chassis as I was replacing the battery after charging. I now know how it sounds to have a shotgun go off in the face. Luckily the shower was handy no damage to myself after I got over the fright and I found all the bits of battery.
Always happy to share these experiences.


great and how i wanted to one of those people offering up the conversions! If professionals can't do it right I don't even want to think about if I screw up...


Phil I meant o convey that old lead acid batters are a problem too , as is just about every bother fuel, etc some worse than others, hence testing training and knowledge is very useful.
The electric vehicles around use up to 400V so just because its battery, doesn't mean it cant hurt.
Industry must be concerned when servicemen, emergency service worker, firemen and ambo's come in contact with any system 40v and up.
Everyone needs to know this.(including DIYourselfers and home solar if inverters are used)
There are any common misconceptions out there accidents waiting to happen. But that is not an obstacle if approached correctly.


What would cause an explosion in a LiIon powered car, with high temperatures and a burning back seat, leaving the battery pack "largely" intact?

Maybe "explosion" got added in there as the story was passed along.

Another possibility is an airbag...


It sounds like it was a wiring flaw - not a Li-Ion battery issue. It should be noted that this IS NOT the same system that Hymotion is currently offering for public sale. But, that is why just because someone can build something in small volumes for demonstartion efforts/fleet use - doesn't necessarily mean it is ready for mass market.


"The driver pulled over, exited the car, and there was a subsequent explosion. "

Still, much less dangerous than a nitro fuel burning dragster.

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