Vietnam's quality watchdog on Thursday said that it has started checking gasoline quality on suspicion that poor-quality fuel was related to recent vehicular fires.
Tran Van Vinh, deputy chief of the Directorate for Standards, Metrology and Quality, said his agency took samples from the provinces and cities where the fires took place, especially at gasoline stations where the owners of burned vehicles made purchases before the incidents.
"Although we know that people are impatiently waiting for conclusions from agencies, we can't conclude hastily," Vinh said. He said it usually takes three days to take a sample before sending it to be tested.
"However, we will not let people wait too long," the official stressed.
In an interview with Tuoi Tre, Vinh said probably after 11 fuel traders in Ho Chi Minh City were found selling low-performance gasoline (A83) under the labels of high-performing ones A93 and A9, other traders mixed some additives into their products to increase performance.
The additives were probably related to the fires, he said.
According to Vinh, the exposure was last month, so it could partly explain why the fires only recently have become rampant.
A report in VnExpress on Wednesday quoted several experts as saying that bad gasoline is probably the main cause of the fires that have plagued tens of motorbikes and cars across Vietnam since the beginning of this year.
An unnamed expert who used to work for the German car corporation Daimler AG said that the engines of cars and motorbikes are "quite stable." Thus, he said, it is impossible for the vehicles to have sudden problems that would lead to the fires repeated across the country and among various vehicle brands.
Meanwhile, due to lax management, fuel traders have been found playing tricks to sell poor-quality gasoline at high prices before, he said
According to the expert, some traders mix methanol and ethanol into low-performance fuel to increase its combustion so that they can sell it as high-performance fuel. However, the additives are corrosive to rubber materials, which can allow gasoline to leak and be burned by certain ignitions, he said.
"Officially, in Vietnam only gasoline E5 has ethanol with the concentration of 5 percent, but I think that the concentrations of methanol and ethanol could be up to 30 percent to 40 percent. On the other hand, motorbike producers use materials that withstand the additives' concentrations of 10 percent only," the expert said.
Additionally, he said, fuel traders do not use methanol and ethanol of regulated quality to maintain profits.
Another expert who has worked as a management official in the fuel industry for many years and was referred to as Hoa in the VnExpress report agreed with the poor fuel quality theory.
He said it is likely that gasoline was mixed with additives at gasoline stations, which could explain why the fires occurred one after another. He noted that the additives are cheap and can be bought anywhere.
The number of fires would be higher if suppliers added the additives, Hoa said. Moreover, methanol and ethanol vaporize easily, so there is no point in mixing them into gasoline before transporting it to retailers, he stressed.
Nguyen Minh Dong, who used to work for Volkswagen Vietnam, said in VnExpress that besides gasoline, the quality of materials that motorbike producers use should also be questioned.
There is a chance that also due to profits, the materials of components that come into contact with fuel were mixed with some additives, allowing them to corrode easily, Dong said.
"Many producers have had products on fire probably because they bought materials from the same supplier. Agencies should review motorbikes' components more, instead of inspecting the burned bikes only," he said.
Vinh also told Tuoi Tre that although gasoline is flammable and can leak due to corrosive additives, it will not lead to a fire except when an ignition present.
Denying that hot weather could burn the leaked fuel, the official said the ignition probably came from vehicles' improperly-set compartments. In fact, some people have suspected that the burned vehicles must have been modified at disqualified shops, he added.
However, Vinh said all current theories are just guesses and analyses, noting that they have to be tested to reach final conclusions.
At least 18 fires and explosions of motorbikes have occurred across the country this year, according to the Ministry of Public Security's latest statistics reported on December 23. The fires were not exclusive to any particular brand, but occurred in various Honda, SYM, and BMW models, the ministry said.
Among the cases, most of which remain unsolved, is the explosion of a Honda Dream that killed a mother and her daughter on December 1 in the northern province of Bac Ninh.
2 MOTOBIKES CATCH FIRE IN DA NANG, DONG NAI
A Honda @125 caught on fire Thursday in the central city of Da Nang, but its owner and locals managed to extinguish the fire before it totally burned down the motorbike.
Le Vinh Tam, 53, told Thanh Nien that when he was riding the bike from the adjacent province of Quang Nam, other riders told him that there was smoke coming from under the bike seat.
The man stopped and when he opened the under-seat storage, the fire flared up, he said.
Together with a local man, Tam put out the fire. The bike, which he recently bought second-hand, had most of its electric system damaged.
Tam, who used to work as chief of the post-sale department at a motorbike export-import company, said although the bike was a second-hand, all of its components were original and he didn't have any after-market parts installed.
The previous owner bought the motorbike in November 2005, Tam noted.
Also on Thursday, a Honda retailer in the southern province of Dong Nai told Thanh Nien that Honda Vietnam Co. Ltd has assigned its technicians to learn about the fire that slightly burned a Click on December 27.
Initial conclusions were that the cause wasn't related to technical problems. However, the company paid the owner Tran Thi Thuy Trang about half of the repair fees, which were estimated to cost VND4.5 million (US$213) in total.
Honda Vietnam has previously also said its inspections of the Air Blade that was burned in Hanoi on December 9 found that the cause wasn't related to the product quality, Tuoi Tre reported Friday.
It made the conclusion in response to the Vietnam Competition Authority's request for explanations about the fires related to its brands.
The company also said it has yet to access police information about the fatal explosion of Honda Dream in the northern province of Bac Ninh. However, its tests showed that the explosion, which killed a mother and her daughter, was too large to be caused by the bike's battery and fuel tank.
According to Honda Vietnam, customers can have their Honda motorbikes inspecdted at its authorized shops across the country.