An investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) into possible fire hazards of the Chevy Volt’s battery pack has turned up no real issue, the government agency concluded as it winded things down on Friday. It had been investigating since late November, concluding things in a rather quick fashion for such an issue.
The NHTSA, in its findings, noted its investigation concluded that “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 said it was unaware of any real world crashes that had occurred with the Chevy Volt – or any other plug-in electric vehicle for that matter – which resulted in a battery related fire post impact.
The investigation, which first occurred as the result of fires following NHTSA crash tests of the vehicle and its battery components, concluded that plug-in electric vehicles do not “pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered vehicles. Generally all vehicles have some risk of fire in the event of a serious crash.” That being said, the NHTSA was also quick to point out that eduction is necessary regarding safety precautions to consumers in the event of damage involving fire in one of these types of cars.
Specifics around what is being termed interim guidance include having drivers assume the batteries in these vehicles are still fully charged and that exposed electrical components, as a result, are potentially shock hazards. Also, venting and off-gassing of battery vapors, which are likely toxic and flammable, are possible, either immediately upon or sometime shortly after a crash.
GM – already working on a fix to strengthen the Volt’s structure and battery coolant system that will, in turn, protect its T-shaped battery pack in the event of a collision – issued a statement shortly after the NHTSA findings, saying the closing of the investigation was consistent with the results of its own internal testing and assessment.
Even as GM now faces the difficult task of rebuilding the Volt’s reputation in light of this investigation, the company is pulling a few interesting aces out of its sleeve to do so. One is word it is preparing a special version of the car for the California market that would allow it to qualify for a state rebate and carpool lane sticker. Another is new OnStar technology under development that would allow customers to configure Volt battery charging to favor clean energy on the grid for their charging cycle.
This latter technology involves a number of factors, including simultaneously managing the charging of many Volts and matching this to renewable energy availability. Every little bit of good karma for the Volt can’t hurt at this point, with dealers turning down Volts from GM because of weak sales and some saying consumer interest in green cars in general may be falling.