To slightly paraphrase Oscar Wilde,   to lose one electric  truck in a fire could be considered misfortune, but to lose two electric trucks to fire could be considered carelessness.

Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) has stated in a recent press release, that it  has concerns about the rising rate of Lithium-Ion battery fires as its crews responded to yet another  incident at a truck EV conversion facility north of Sydney last week.

Nine fire trucks responded to  the Janus Electric truck facility in Berkeley Vale, on  the NSW Central Coast, just after 5:00pm on 14 March , when an electric truck charging station was engulfed in flames.

The Fire Crews say that they established  a defensive perimeter around the business, fearing multiple lithium-ion truck batteries were at risk of catching fire. Luckily the blaze was extinguished without further incident according to FRNSW.

This was reportedly the third documented incident involving Janus battery electric converted trucks,  since the Australian battery-swap start-up’s official launch in April 2022.

In the first incident, one of the company’s trucks caught fire under test conditions in the same Janus depot at Berkeley Vale on 14 July, 2022.

That fire was brought under control by the local fire brigade and Janus CEO, Lex Forsyth said that from initial investigations it was suspected that the fire was caused by “an engineering challenge” which he said has since been designed out of the company’s latest prototypes.

“It is fortunate that the impact of the fire caused minimal disruption in hitting our milestones as the Kenworth T403 in the fire was the ‘first in kind never to be repeated prototype’,” Forsyth said at the time.

That Janus converted Kenworth T403 was the first truck to be fitted with the original Janus interchangeable battery system and used a front-loading battery design.

The next incident was the very public destruction of a converted Kenworth prime mover on loan to Cement Australia. The fire occurred inbound on the West Gate Freeway near the WestGate Bridge in Melbourne on 30 November, last year.

The fire was so intense that it partially melted the road and firefighters had to let the fire burn itself out before they could attempt a cleanup.

The fire closed part of the West Gate freeway and bridge for almost seven hours, and totally destroyed the prime mover.

Janus Electric CEO Lex Forsyth was contacted for comment and said that the fire in March was part of testing for a new design

“This was part of prototype testing and there was no damage to the site and no persons were injured,” Forsyth said.

“The testing unfortunately resulted in a failure,” he said.

Forsyth went on to say that in all forms of testing and development there were some risks and that contrary to the report from the FRNSW there were no other batteries in the area that were threatened.

Speaking as background to T&B News, one OEM source said there are reasons why established brands have had fewer problems.

“A modified diesel truck really falls through the cracks when it comes to current regulations, which is concerning,” the spokesperson said.

The Janus fires are  causing consternation amongst the  major OEMs, who are preparing to roll out more  electric trucks to major fleets over the next two or three years. With some toll road operators already signalling potential bans on electric truck in  motorway tunnels, this could have a major impact on the take-up of battery electric trucks by major fleets in this country, even though none of the major OEMs such as Daimler, Volvo, Hyundai  etc, have suffered  fires in their trucks in testing or in general operations.

One OEM spokesperson told T&B News that it is a worrying trend and calls into question the engineering standards of  companies such as Janus  and the implications  these engineering issues and fires will have on the future of the roll out of new  zero emission trucks  for our roads.

“Unlike OEM production electric trucks, it [a converted truck] doesn’t need to meet the ECE R100 standards. All the OEMs carry out a huge amount of tests in the lab and on the road after investing vast amounts in research and development to ensure these trucks operate safely.”

EV FireSafe is an Australian company funded by the Department of Defence to research electric vehicle high-voltage battery fires and emergency response.

According to EV FireSafe, of 10 “documented fires” in electric trucks around the world since 2022, only one was an OEM electric truck – a Volvo that was hit by a freight train in the USA.

Of those 10 incidents three were Janus Electric: July 14, 2022, Converted Kenworth, Berkeley Vale, NSW; November 28, 2023, Converted Kenworth, Port Melbourne, Victoria; March, 14 2024, Battery pack for an electric truck, Apprentice Drive, Berkeley Vale, NSW.

Three were Nikola trucks: June 23, 2023, TRE BEV Truck, Arizona, USA; September 4, 2023, TRE BEV, Arizona, USA; September 8, 2023, TRE BEV, Arizona, USA.

Then on February 10, 2023, there was a fire in a Terminal Tractor, Kalmar Electric, California, USA; August 2023, the Volvo Truck incident in California, USA; February 14, 2024, Phoenix Danmark electric garbage truck, Rodovre, Denmark and on March 2024, an unknown brand of Yard Truck in Kansas, USA.

EV FireSafe said that electric truck battery fires are rare, and based on its research, typically occur in prototype vehicles or following a major collision.

A spokesperson for Volvo Group Australia said that the incidence of fires in electric trucks was disappointing for the industry as a whole as it tries to transition to zero-emission transport.

“Clearly not all electromobility solutions are created equal,” he said.

“It is extremely disappointing to see events such as this paint zero emissions transport in such a negative light.

“I can only emphasise the need for the federal government to enforce ECE R100 regulations here in Australia to restore confidence from both industry and the wider community that OEM BEV solutions are safe and reliable.”