Chevy Volt Battery Packs A Fire Risk?

Is the new General Motors Chevrolet Volt a safe vehicle to ride in, or is it a ball of flame waiting to happen post a bad accident? There’s some questions being asked around this, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said Friday it is opening a “formal safety defect investigation to assess the risk of fire in Chevy Volts that have been involved in a serious crash.”

Yup, that’s probably not a good thing.

The NHTSA, which back in June gave the Volt a five-star overall safety rating, said this past May it crashed the extended range vehicle in testing “to measure the vehicle’s ability to protect occupants from injury in a side collision. During that test, the vehicle’s battery was damaged and the coolant line was ruptured. When a fire involving the test vehicle occurred more than three weeks after it was crashed, the agency concluded that the damage to the vehicle’s lithium-ion battery during the crash test led to the fire.”

image via IIHS

The government agency, trying to gain more insight into what happened, conducted some tests earlier this month on the Volt’s lithium-ion battery packs that intentionally damaged the battery compartment and ruptured the vehicle’s coolant line. Test results varied at first, but the NHTSA noted that post at least one of the tests the battery pack “caught fire at the testing facility.”

Though not aware of “any roadway crashes that have resulted in battery-related fires in Chevy Volts or other vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries,” it was felt a deeper investigation was still warranted.

GM seems to be working hard to prevent this issue from spinning out of control and impacting sales of this young hatchling vehicle from its nest. A statement released by the automaker today announced “initiatives for customer satisfaction and battery safety research to ensure ongoing confidence in the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle.” GM has established its own engineering team that is working with the NHTSA on possible changes, and Mark Reuss, president, GM North America, said “the company would take every precaution to assure the driving public of GM’s commitment to the safety of the Volt being handled after a severe incident and the total satisfaction of everyone who owned one.”

Ironically, even as GM works with the NHTSA on this potentially bad issue, the automaker announced separately the Volt had “been awarded a top five-star rating by the European New Car Assessment Program. This marks the third time the vehicle has gotten such high marks – besides the NHTSA, it also got the safety nod from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety earlier this year.

I am the editor-in-chief and founder for EarthTechling. This site is my desire to bring the world of green technology to consumers in a timely and informative matter. Prior to this my previous ventures have included a strong freelance writing career and time spent at Silicon Valley start ups.