Last Thursday, General Motors announced that structural changes to its electric vehicle flagship, the plug in electric Chevrolet Volt. The changes would involve upgrades to the steel structure and the liquid cooling surrounding the battery array as a response to issues regarding the risk of catching fire after a crash.
Company officials said that they have given the blueprints for the upgrades to federal safety regulators who have been focused on investigations as to fire risks involved with the Volt. The company is optimistic as to the action would be able to satisfy the government’s safety concerns as to the previous issues with the battery array.
In response, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in a statement on its website responded that the changes “should address the issue” but the investigation remained open.
For its part, the changes are defined by GM as voluntary “enhancements” and reiterated that neither the car nor the battery would be recalled. All that needed to be done to qualify would be Volt owners to take their cars to the dealership, similar to a formal recall.
Marry Barra, GM’s Senior Vice President for Global Product Development said through a conference call, “We are choosing to go the extra mile to ensure our customers’ peace of mind.” She added that the changes would make the Volt “even safer because it is already safe.”
Last June, a Volt caught fire three weeks after crash tests conducted by the government damaged the battery and cooling system. A second fire occurred after further testing last November that triggered the federal investigation by the NHTSA.
Last Thursday, the carmaker had undertaken four crash tests of Volts with the upgraded cooling and structure system resulting in no intrusions into the battery array and no coolant leakage. These were the two factors determined by the NHTSA as the causes of the Volt fires. For its part, the NHTSA said that it had subjected a modified Volt to the same tests that lead to the original fire. It found no signs of the damage that was the original cause of the fire.
In a statement, the NHTSA said, “The results of that crash test showed no intrusion into the vehicle’s battery compartment and no coolant leakage was apparent. The preliminary results of the crash test indicate the remedy proposed by General Motors today should address the issue of battery intrusion.”
For its part, the NHTSA would continue to monitor the car but expected that the investigation would be concluded in the next few weeks. It said that its testing showed that there is no risk of fires if the battery pack was not damaged or had no coolant leaks.
As of date, GM had sold nearly 8,000 Volts since the car was introduced in 2010. The Volt is plug-in hybrid that travels 35 miles on battery power before running the gasoline engine.