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Summary:

Just what the nascent plug-in vehicle market needs: A rockstar’s plug-in car catches on fire. Neil Young’s famous LincVolt plug-in car — a 1959 Lincoln Continental converted to electric — caught on fire after what looks to be an untested bit of the charging infrastructure sparked.

LincVolt1

Just what the nascent plug-in vehicle market needs: a fire from a DIY plug-in car belonging to a rockstar. This morning, according to news reports, Neil Young’s famous LincVolt plug-in hybrid car — a 1959 Lincoln Continental converted to hybrid electric — caught on fire after what looks to be an untested bit of the charging infrastructure sparked. The fire caused $1.1 million in damages at Young’s warehouse and the “LincVolt was severely damaged,” writes Young on a website devoted to the car.

While the fire is clearly a setback for Young’s famous plug-in hybrid car, it’s a bigger worry when it comes to consumer’s concerns that electric vehicle technology is not yet proven. Just yesterday, Pike Research reported that plug-in cars will be held back first and foremost by consumers taking a “wait and see approach.” Pike Research analyst John Gartner predicted it could easily take several years for mainstream car shoppers to get comfortable with the idea of electric vehicles.

You know what doesn’t make people comfortable? Fires. Lithium-ion batteries, which will be used in the bulk of the next-gen plug-ins on the roads, already have a reputation for “thermal runaway,” i.e., blowing up. If you google “lithium-ion laptop battery and fire,” it’s not hard to find videos of batteries combusting. But auto makers like Tesla have gone to great lengths to build battery management systems that keep the battery packs cool and under stable conditions.

Less expected from the plug-in car market are problems with charging infrastructure. Plug-in cars can just charge on standard outlets, but can also charge via faster chargers. Young writes on his site:

We do know that the car has been operating perfectly for almost 2 thousand miles and the system in question would not be in use while driving the car. We are investigating the components involved with plug-in charging.

The news of Young’s plug-in fire comes on the eve of the L.A. Auto Show, where car makers will be showing off the next generation of plug-in and hybrids cars. Here’s 10 green cars to watch for outta L.A.

For more research on the intersection of green and IT check out GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

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  1. It’s quite irresponsible to report on something you have no firsthand knowledge of.

    What exactly are you adding to the discussion?

    What are your comments on the relative safety of homebuilt electric cars compared to a factory produced and tested production model?

    Exactly How stupid is it for you to compare a custom machine to production vehicles even through insinuation?

  2. Come on Katie… like it’s perfectly safe to drive around with highly combustible petroleum stored in your car, but battery energy storage is voodoo? LOL

    Just to give you some basis for comparison, one US gallon of gasoline contains 36.6 kWh worth of energy. So the 24 kWh battery pack in a Nissan Leaf has the energy potential of less than 1 gallon. Think about that next time you park your cute butt in an SUV with a 30 Gallon fuel tank.

    Look up “Idiot lights a fire with 5 galons of Gas!!!BOOM!” on youtube to see a graphic illustration!

  3. You know what else doesn’t make people comfortable? Wars, dependency on foreign oil, and a wasteful raping of our planet.

    Experimental aircraft… sometimes they crash, yet we fly.

    And scores of safety improvements in our daily drivers are born from auto racing, where things sometimes go terribly wrong.

    If you’ll take a longer term look at this you’ll hopefully realize that experiments and setbacks like this one are exactly where improvements come from. Yeah, it’s the edge. And fortunately some will not only go out there but they lean into it — because that’s where the new stuff is.

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