Chevy Volt Battery Issue The Next Solyndra?

Is a new Solyndra brewing in the halls of power in Washington? One might think so with word today of a new report released by Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. According to Bloomberg, this report basically accuses the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in a cover up of sorts over the battery fire issue the NHTSA just closed its investigation on last week.

image via GM

From the 16-page report’s executive summary:

The delayed public notification of serious safety concerns relating to the Chevy Volt raises significant concerns regarding the unnatural relationship between General Motors (GM), Chrysler and the Obama Administration. Rather than allowing GM and Chrysler to enter into a traditional bankruptcy process, the Obama Administration intervened and forced the companies to participate in a politically orchestrated process.  The result was that GM and Chrysler emerged as quasi-private entities, partially owned by the United States government.

President Obama has used this unusual blurring of public and private sector boundaries to openly tout the results of this partnership as a top accomplishment of his Administration –creating a dynamic where the President is politically reliant on the success of GM and Chrysler.Moreover, in the case of GM, the Administration has offered substantial taxpayer funded subsidies to encourage production of the Volt, such as $151.4 million in stimulus funds for a Michigan-based company that produces lithium-ion polymer battery cells for the Volt as well as $105 million directly to GM. It has also extended a significant subsidy to encourage consumers to purchase the vehicle, offering buyers of the Volt a federal tax credit of up to $7,500 per vehicle.

In the face of that political dependency, it is deeply troubling that public notification of the safety concerns related to the Volt was inexplicably delayed for six months – a period of time that also coincides with the negotiation over the 2017-2025 fuel economy standards. The necessity of a full explanation for NHTSA’s silence concerning the Volt’s safety risk has been compounded by its lack of cooperation with the Committee.

The NHTSA, speaking before the committee on a hearing related to the Volt battery issue, defended its actions, according to PC World. An administrator said, to the contrary, that

the agency was very responsive to Chevy Volt concerns.

“It is important to note that the agency rarely opens a defect investigation without data from real-world incidents,” he said. “By taking this uncommon step of opening a defect investigation [into the Chevy Volt] with no available field data, NHTSA sought to ensure the safety of the driving public with emerging electric vehicle technology.”

GM, also defending the Volt, said in front of the committee, according to MSNBC:

that the Volt got “disproportionate scrutiny” because it became a surrogate for election-year politics and commentary on GM’s business and Obama administration policy.

“We did not engineer the Volt to be a political punching bag. And that, sadly, is what the Volt has become,” Akerson said.

The NHTSA investigation, which began in November after safety test results showed that the battery of the Volt could catch fire post-crash, concluded that there was “no discernible defect trend exists and that the vehicle modifications recently developed by General Motors reduce the potential for battery intrusion resulting from side impacts.”

The agency first became aware of the fire related issue in June.

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.

    • god, im so sick of people complaining about the volt … leave the the car alone, they gave it just as much if not more attention than it deserved and determined it was safe and then GM even upped the battery safety for in-production 2012 and future 2013 models so even IF it was a problem they already beefed up the center compartment to make it safer anyway. If people want a punching bag of a car they should really take a closer look at the abysmal safety record and lack of features required in SUV models and trucks.

    • Tsk tsk tsk, trying to kill the electric vehicle again.u00a0

    • Wgbrand

      The volt battery should be a rental item traded in annually until it finally gets cheap. Old battery should be used to back up windmills when the wind fails. The non battery parts of an electric car should be cheaper than the equivelent parts of a gas car. The volt should have used a gas turbine not an internal combustion engine. In mas production it would be cheaper. The electric motors should have been in the wheel hubs.