Federal safety regulators have instituted formal defect inquiries into the Chevrolet Volt. This move was a result of a second battery fire with the vehicle after a crash simulation.
Informal examinations were conducted on battery arrays of several plug-in cars since a Chevy Volt had caught fire after being damaged in a government crash test. This time around, a Volt battery pack was intentionally damaged as part of the testing of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
A further complication occurred during the testing when there was a temporary temperature increase in another battery pack a day after it was damage. A third battery pack began to smoke and emit sparks after it was damaged and then turned upside down to simulate a roll over crash.
In an official statement, the agency said, “The NHTSA is 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 does add, “However the agency is concerned that damage to the Volt’s batteries as part of three tests that are explicitly designed to replicate real-world crash scenarios have resulted in fire.”
The NHTSA clarified though that the battery tests it is conducting has not raised any safety issues about the batteries in other plug-in cars. It added, “Chevy Volt owners whose vehicles have not been in a serious crash do not have reason for concern.” The new testing to be done includes damaging the battery compartment and rupturing the coolant line.
For its part, General Motors unveiled the Volt to the public last year and said it was not surprised by the current investigation being conducted. The carmaker though insisted that there were no defects in its Chevy Volt and has been working with the agency in order to replicate the conditions that brought about the fire last June. The report on the June fire was only made public last month and there have been no other similar incidents except during the testing conducted.
According to Jim Federico, G.M.’s Chief Engineer for Electric Vehicles said “The Volt is safe and does not present undue risk as part of normal operation or immediately after a severe crash. G.M. and the agency’s focus and research continues to be on battery performance, handling, storage and disposal after a crash or other significant event, like a fire, to better serve first and secondary responders. There have been no reports of comparable incidences in the field.”
G.M. said the June fire was due to the failure to deactivate the battery, which occurred at a crash test in a storage facility. They believe that crystallized coolant has leaked out of the cooling system of the battery array and pooled in another area in the pack when it was rotated during the simulation crash. A month later, G.M. began publishing post-crash safety protocols to emergency responders, saying that the battery needs to be isolated from the rest of the vehicle through a disconnect switch then later on depleted by the company.