This week, Lime, one of the nation’s largest electric-scooter companies, said the company pulled thousands of its scooters off the streets this summer because a small number of defective batteries had the potential to catch fire.
The batteries were fire-prone, the company said, because of a welding issue that caused them to short-circuit.
Responding to Lime in a statement to The Washington Post on Thursday night, Segway — the personal-transportation company responsible for producing Lime’s batteries — disputed the scooter company’s claims and stood by its manufacturing process.
Segway said its engineers who specialize in battery technology conclude that faulty welding “will typically stop a battery from charging or discharging, but it’s highly unlikely to cause a battery to short circuit.” Welding is utilized to place a conductor on Segway batteries that manages the flow of electricity.
“Over the years we have sold multiple millions of Segway’s self balancing vehicles and a million kickscooters, all of which used the same battery technology without such incidents,” the statement added.
“We cannot agree with Lime’s diagnosis stated in the article. We think the statement was not based on a good understanding of battery technology.”
Segway put out its own statement Friday morning making similar points.
Asked to comment on Segway’s statement, a Lime spokesman said the company still maintains their scooter’s fire hazard stemmed from a manufacturing problem.
“Segway’s assertions aside, even the slightest risk — and we do believe that the risk is small — from their batteries requires putting the safety of our Lime community first” the spokesman said. “We look forward to working with Segway to rule out any safety issues and restore our confidence in their product. Until then, we stand by our decision and rationale.”
Responding to questions from The Washington Post about scooters catching fire earlier this week, Lime had previously said some of the welding surrounding its defective batteries may have had weak spots, causing the batteries to short.
Tony Ho, Segway’s vice president of global business development, said Segway’s batteries are certified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), a company that independently tests the safety of lithium-ion batteries. UL did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Ho said Segway produced about 1 million electric scooters this year alone, about 10 percent of which were sold to Lime. The company supplies electric scooters and batteries to about 30 scooter companies, including giants such as Bird, he said.
“We take Lime’s fire issue very, very seriously,” Ho said. “We actually went to all of our shared scooter partners, and so far we’ve found that only the Lime operation has had fire incidents.”
Ho pointed to what engineers and company officials believe is a more likely culprit for Lime’s battery woes: improper charging and maintenance.
As Instagram pages such as Bird Graveyard have documented, Ho said, electric scooters all over the country undergo “substantial abuse” from customers. He said it’s possible that any defective Lime scooter batteries had become damaged after being involved in crashes or subjected to abuse. Batteries can also catch fire if they’re overcharged or don’t use Segway-issued charging devices. An employee who charges scooters with the wrong equipment, Ho said, could damage scooter batteries.
Because external cases that hold Lime scooter batteries often sustain damage from vehicles hitting the ground and colliding with objects, Ho said it’s “even more important for the shared-scooter companies to put in place guidelines for proper operation.”
“These scooters are involved in a commercial operation,” Ho said. “Without proper training and a way to manage your contractors — or ‘Juicers,’ as Lime labels them — it’s actually going to be very difficult to make sure all the safety practices are followed.”
Ho added that Segway is working closely with Lime to resolve technical questions about malfunctioning batteries.
In a statement Tuesday, Lime said that it learned in August that a “manufacturing defect” in some of its scooters “could result in the battery smoldering, or in some cases catching fire.” The only known case where a Lime scooter caused a fire was at the company’s Lake Tahoe facility on Aug. 27.
The company’s statement came in response to questions from The Post about Lime’s scooters catching on fire. Although company officials said in an interview that Lime recalled about 2,000 scooters in Los Angeles, San Diego and Lake Tahoe, they said the risk of smoldering and fires was real in only a tiny percentage of cases. The company said it took off the streets the much larger number out of caution.
Lime also acknowledged that it has received an unconfirmed report that another scooter model it uses “may also be vulnerable to battery failure.”
In its statement this week, Lime said that, moving forward, Segway Ninebot scooters will be charged only at Lime’s “scooter storage facilities” and would “no longer be available to Juicers for after hours charging.”
The company said it also plans to staff its global charging facilities 24 hours a day with employees trained to handle “these particular batteries.”