Electric vehicles & assessment: when technicality rhymes with prevention
Over the last few years, the electric car has grown strongly. Due to ecological and societal changes, there has been a clear increase in the number of registrations of this type of vehicle. For example, in France in 2020 the number of electric vehicles sold was 110,900, compared with 10,400 in 2015. This represents an increase of 1,000% in just five years. Although the pandemic has changed travel habits, this growth can be explained mainly by technological progress and a real awareness of the environment? And yet, these electric vehicles, which are new to the market, raise the question of new insurance needs and therefore of the expertise that goes with them.
An evolution from combustion engine to electric motor
Automotive companies are offering an increasingly wide range of electrically powered vehicles from micro-mobility (scooters, bicycles, etc.) to family and sports vehicles. On 14 July 2021, in response to the environmental emergency, the European Commission announced the end of the marketing of thermal cars by 2035. Although this ecological pact favours the development of the electric motor, there is a real awareness among the population of the impacts of polluting gas emissions and those with greenhouse effects. At the same time, the restrictions on the use of combustion engines, the various scandals concerning diesel engines and the forthcoming scarcity of fossil fuels are also favouring the electric motor.
How does Civil Liability differ between electric and thermal vehicles?
The regimes of liability that apply to electric vehicles are identical to those of their internal combustion counterparts, namely
- Liability for motorised land vehicles (Badinter law) in the event of a traffic accident;
- Professional civil liability for car professionals.
As far as insurance is concerned, and with the benefit of hindsight, there has been no notable change and no increase in the number of claims for electric vehicles has been observed. Moreover, the number of claims for electric vehicles should even decrease in the future, especially when this mobility is associated with autonomous driving technology. Today, in terms of fire accidents, there is no statistic to suggest that an electric vehicle is more at risk than a combustion engine vehicle.
What is the main risk?
As with all new technologies, the emergence of new technologies is not without new problems that need to be taken into account with equal attention. Electric vehicle fires and recall campaigns are often in the headlines, but it should be noted that fires caused by a technical cause intrinsic to the electric propulsion chain are actually quite rare. As with any motorised vehicle, the risk of fire exists but it is above all linked to exogenous causes (voluntary or propagated to the vehicle). Apart from “classic” accidents, it is the lithium battery technology that is the main risk factor in electric vehicles. The latter, which concentrates a high density of energy, is particularly sensitive to thermal runaway and especially in the event of being subjected to shocks or abnormally high operating temperatures.
In order to avoid any risk of impact, manufacturers of electric vehicles generally place the battery under the vehicle to maximise its protection. This is one of the reasons why it is difficult for emergency services to access the battery: the battery is highly protected to avoid shocks, but paradoxically less accessible in the event of a fire, which sometimes leads to replication of the fire, condensing the energy still available in a small volume. However, this problem of fire replication is known for lithium batteries but is not at all specific to electric vehicles! Indeed, lithium batteries are everywhere: computers, mobile phones, power tools, etc. It is a battery technology that is widely deployed in fields other than the automobile (computers, mobile phones, etc.).
Different types of risk
The risks are therefore not greater but different: the majority are linked to physical damage that may occur during an intervention on the damaged vehicle or the vehicle to be repaired. Indeed, the emergency services and professional responders are not necessarily used to dealing with these vehicles, whose primary danger is the electrical voltage, which can reach several hundred volts. This is why it is necessary for all the people involved to be qualified and to have specific training to make them aware of the danger of the current. As the electrical part of the traction chain requires extreme caution, there is a risk that the workers are not familiar with this very specific process linked to this technology (means of protection, de-energising, etc.). On the other hand, the risk is reduced or even eliminated if people are well trained. The fire brigade has specific training for these vehicles and uses an application to find out where the battery is located on the different types of vehicle models.
Whatever the sector of activity, zero risk does not exist. It has never existed for internal combustion vehicles either; the same situation applies here for electrically powered vehicles, where technology is constantly evolving to improve both autonomy and safety. Thus, new lithium battery technologies will arrive on the market, in particular the solid electrolyte lithium battery which is much less sensitive to shocks. This development will force infrastructures and local authorities to adapt by installing electric charging stations throughout the country, for example. And if the shift to hydrogen has been made, so has the development of hydrogen recharging stations. Because our future depends on it, the mobility of the future will be green and decarbonised and the expert’s job will have to become increasingly specialised and keep abreast of the new technologies impacting the automotive world.
Civil Liability Loss Adjuster