It’s a little known fact that some of the earliest automobiles were powered by electric motors. Of course, usable range and speed were limited, but the same was true of combustion engine powered vehicles of the time as well. Eventually, the mass popularity and seemingly unlimited supply of fossil fuels caused the first generation of electric cars to simply fade into history. Fast forward to 2016, and we are witnessing the electric and hybrid powered vehicle becoming increasingly popular over the last two decades. The growing threat of a global energy crisis paired with the increasing advancements in battery output and electric drivetrain efficiency have led to a renewed motivation to turn the page on electric vehicles. They are emerging from their status as mere novelty items into more mainstream sources of transportation.
As electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles carve out a place in the automotive world, new questions and considerations naturally arise. The question of public battery charging in particular has seen multiple concepts surface with varying degrees of merit. Safety concerns are probably the most important to both consumers and designers. As new technologies are discovered and implemented widely in this market segment, concerns for safety abound.
From a crash and impact standpoint, electric vehicles have proven just as safe as gasoline powered vehicles. As far back as 2011, electric cars such as the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf have received the highest safety ratings possible from the iihs. This stands to reason as the lightweight materials and construction methods used in electric cars are the same weight saving principles developed for gas powered counterparts. The weight distribution of battery packs has also been gradually negated by the compact and lightweight LiPo batteries more commonly used.
The other more unique safety concern with electric vehicles is in regard to fire and electric shock. These vehicles operate using very high output batteries operating at very high voltage. These systems are relatively new to the automotive scene and technologies in this area are advancing at a rapid pace. As we have seen in cases of consumer electronics, a Lipo based power delivery system can be quite volatile if you don’t keep your car in good condition to ensure integral system components are isolated from impact, temperature extremes, and short circuits. Recent incidents with smartphones and hoverboard units have shown that the results can be devastating when failures occur.
For this reason, automakers pioneering the electric vehicle race have taken great lengths to ensure that safety systems in this area are foolproof and redundant. Most electric vehicles sold in the US employ physical safeties, which disconnect and isolate battery packs in the event of extreme impacts. Tesla in particular has employed hybrid steel and aluminum armor on the sides and beneath the vehicle to protect the battery tray from road debris. Electrical connections are positively engaged using industrial grade connectors and conductors that have been extensively tested for corrosion resistance and longevity. The goal of electric vehicle design engineers is to produce vehicles that are capable of the same lifespan of their fossil fuel consuming counterparts. In many cases, the quality of components and design could result in vehicles that last longer than their gas powered alternatives. Paired with driver assistance tools that monitor road conditions for optimal performance, the electric car of today may soon reclaim the very market it was pushed out of a century ago.