Battery Fires in Electric Cars Move Authorities to Check on Technology


Federal safety regulators announced an inquiry on lithium ion battery technology because of a recent incident where a Chevrolet Volt ignited during a crash test.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that it is coordinating with all other automakers to develop post crash procedures to ensure the safety of passengers in electric vehicles as well as guiding emergency personnel on the proper protocols when electric cars figure in a car crash.

General Motors defended its Chevy Volt saying it is a safe car and the fire could not have happened if the proper protocols for battery deactivation have been observed when the crash occurred. The Volt is a plug-in hybrid and the design was to be an electric car with a back up gasoline engine.

In response, the NHTSA said that they had no reason to determine that the GM vehicle is considered as unsafe. The news of the fire and the subsequent investigation affected GM shares in the bourse, pulling the value down by as much as 3 percent during last Friday’s trading.

This reaction to the touted battery fire shows the issues that many automakers, regulators and emergency personnel must understand as the numbers of this kind of vehicle design increases in the country’s roadways. While the numbers of these kinds of cars are still low for now, their relative newness and any perceived and actual problems can affect how consumers and future investors would view them. This is in light of the massive funding put into by the US government for the promotion of these clean, green and alternative fuel car technologies.

There is a real danger in electric shock with electric cars. In the Chevy Volt, the battery is a 400-pound behemoth and is designed in a T-shaped configuration under the middle of the car and between the back seats. This is very different from the gas powered vehicle battery fit under the hood, making the electric car design much more susceptible to endanger the passengers when the vehicle figures in an accident.

The most common battery composition for electric cars nowadays is the lithium ion battery. This is the same battery that is used in laptops, mobile phones and other rechargeable devices. This battery design is much lighter and smaller with more electrical energy storable compared to the first generation batteries composed of nickel-metal hydride components.

In a statement issued by the NHTSA, the agency believes that the Volt or any other electric vehicle are at a greater risk of fire than gasoline powered vehicles. It added, “In fact, all vehicles – both electric and gasoline powered – have some risk of fire in the event of a serious crash.”