GM Offers Buy-Back Option for Volts


In an unprecedented move, General Motors announced it would buy back Chevrolet Volts of owners who are concerned about fire risks to their vehicles. In the announcement made last Thursday, the company also promised to comply with changes to the battery pack design based on the recommendations of federal regulators.

The announcement was made in an interview with GM’s CEO Daniel Akerson by the Associated Press. Akerson reiterated the safety of the plug-in hybrid but offered the Volt owners that the company would buy back the units from unsatisfied customers.

This buyback offer was confirmed by GM spokesman, Rob Peterson. He said, “If there’s a customer that wants to sell back their Volt, we’ll buy it back from them.”

This is an unusual move for car companies as the common process is to have recalls when regulators or customers report issues with its cars or parts. The last one done was Ford Motors, when it offered to repurchase older Windstar vans in 2010 when rear axle issues were brought forth for investigation.

In this case, the Volt has been put under the microscope after the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration when last November 25 that an investigation was being undertaken as to the 400 pound battery array of the vehicle.

In a previous move, the car maker offered free loaner cars to all Volt owners while the investigation is ongoing on the possible safety issues to the lithium-ion batteries. The NHTSA reported two post crash fires to the battery pack of the Volt. The first one occurred three weeks after the battery was damaged while the second one occurred after a week. A third one started to spew smoke and sparks started to fly after a simulated crash test.

In another interview, Akerson said that the company would make design changes to the battery pack of the Volt if they are recommended after the investigation made by federal officials. He said the alterations would be done “if there’s an engineering solution required” to increase the safety of the vehicle.

Some owners though are not too concerned with the federal investigation. One owner, Eric Rotbard, a lawyer in White Plains said “It just has to be treated carefully in the event of a crash. I really am not worried. We just have to get more comfortable with the technology. It doesn’t seem to be any less safe for me.”

In a fit of irony, GM reported that November 2011 was the best month in terms of Volt sales since its introduction last year. The company said there were 1,139 Volts in November, making 2011 numbers reach 6,142. The company though recognized that it would not be able to achieve its target of selling 10,000 Volts for the year.

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.”