NHTSA Closes Volt Investigation


Last Friday, federal safety regulators have formally closed their investigation on the fires that occurred with the Chevrolet Volt. The report found no evidence of a defect and the plug-in vehicles posed no greater fire risk as any other vehicle on the street meeting an accident.

Despite the favorable results, the main problem would be rebuilding consumer confidence in the vehicle. In the larger picture, the safety concerns regarding the reliability of electric vehicles can hurt the advancement of electric cars in the automotive market. According to many industry experts, while the fires were unfortunate, it was good it occurred within testing facilities but these create chilling effect to the interest of the general public to accept new technologies.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also released for the first time photos relating to the aftermath of the Volt catching fire last June. This fire occurred in a remote area near Burlington, Wisconsin and was discovered after it had burned itself out. Also included in the release are videos as to the November testing, where it showed a firefighter fighting flames in a wooden shed where two Volt battery packs were placed under observation.

The two month long investigation undertaken by the NHTSA found that “no discernible defect trend exists”. It also added that the modifications proposed by General Motors are more than sufficient to reduce the possibility of a fire occurring during an accident.

The agency further added, “Based on the available data, NHTSA does not believe that Chevy Volts or other electric vehicles 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.”

The final safety report from the federal agency on the Volt investigation further disclosed the fire on a third battery pack last December 12, six days after the battery was exposed to coolant from the Volt’s liquid cooling system. This pack was one of the six arrays tested to study the conditions that resulted in the June fire. This December fire had consumed a Volt and three other vehicles that were also located nearby in the testing facility.

For its part, General Motors issued a statement, “NHTSA’s decision to close their investigation is consistent with the results of our internal testing and assessment. The voluntary action that GM is taking is intended to make a safe vehicle even safer.”

Another issue is now brewing on the horizon regarding the fires to the Volt. GM’s CEO, Daniel F. Akerson is set to testify before a House subcommittee hearing into why the NHTSA waited until November to disclose the June fire. Speculation has been growing that the delay in the announcement was due to pressure from the Obama administration to hide the fires because the government owns 26 percent of the carmaker.