September 21, 2021

In Fire Investigation, Regulators Say They Found No Defect in Volt

“It’s very unfortunate that this happened, but at least the fires occurred where they should have, which was in a testing facility,” said Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with the research firm IHS Automotive. “The bigger issue is that people are not embracing these new technologies.”

The Volt is a plug-in hybrid car that can go about 35 miles on battery power before using an onboard gasoline engine to extend its range by about 300 miles. G.M. has highlighted the car as proof that it can be a technological leader in the auto industry and has staked much of its reputation upon the car’s success.

Also on Friday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for the first time released photos of the aftermath of a Volt on fire in June, along with videos from the November testing, one of which shows a firefighter battling raging flames in a wooden shed where two battery packs had been under observation.

The June fire occurred over a weekend in a remote area near Burlington, Wis., and was discovered after burning itself out.

The two-month investigation by the safety agency concluded that “no discernible defect trend exists” and modifications that G.M. already has agreed to make are sufficient to reduce the potential for a fire.

“Based on the available data, N.H.T.S.A. does not believe that Chevy Volts or other electric vehicles pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered vehicles,” the agency said in a statement Friday.

“Generally all vehicles have some risk of fire in the event of a serious crash.”

The safety agency’s final report on the Volt investigation disclosed that a third Volt battery pack caught fire Dec. 12, six days after it was exposed to coolant from the Volt’s liquid cooling system. The pack was one of six tested in Virginia in an effort to study the conditions that caused the June fire. It consumed a Volt and three other vehicles that were parked at the testing facility.

The fire, which occurred three weeks after the Volt was heavily damaged in a government crash test, initially raised concerns about the risk of fire in a Volt and other electrified vehicles. The safety agency began a formal investigation Nov. 25, a day after a Volt battery pack that had been intentionally damaged a week earlier caught fire. Another battery briefly emitted smoke and a spark but no flames.

G.M. on Jan. 5 said that it would reinforce the Volt’s battery with an additional piece of steel and install a sensor and bracket on the reservoir for the battery’s liquid coolant system. The company and the safety agency have said leaking coolant was the cause of the fire. G.M. also said the fire would not have occurred if the Volt’s battery had been disconnected and depleted under guidelines that it now recommends emergency responders follow after a severe crash.

A crash test of a Volt with the modifications resulted in no damage to the battery, no coolant leakage and no fire. G.M. has told Volt owners that they can have the changes made at a dealership starting in February, but it has not begun a full-fledged recall.

“N.H.T.S.A.’s decision to close their investigation is consistent with the results of our internal testing and assessment,” G.M. said in a statement. “The voluntary action that G.M. is taking is intended to make a safe vehicle even safer.”

G.M. offered to lend replacement vehicles to Volt owners who were concerned about safety, and bought back some Volts.

Stephen J. Friedman, a California doctor who sold his Volt back to G.M., said he gave up on the car because its driving range under battery power consistently decreased.

“I was disappointed that the range deteriorated after each time I took it in for service,” Dr. Friedman said. “At the beginning I was getting close to 50 miles on a full battery charge, but it dropped to about 33 miles and, to me, that was not acceptable.”

More than 8,000 Volts have been sold since the car went on sale in December 2010. G.M. had projected sales of 10,000 in 2011 but said production and distribution constraints put that goal out of reach. Still, December 2011 was its best sales month so far, despite the negative publicity.

On Wednesday, G.M.’s chief executive, Daniel F. Akerson, plans to testify at a House subcommittee hearing into why G.M. and the safety agency waited until November to disclose the June fire. Officials from the agency and the Department of Transportation have denied speculation by some Republican lawmakers that the Obama administration hid news of the fires because the government owns 26 percent of G.M.

Harry Criswell, a Chevrolet dealer in Gaithersburg, Md., who sold more than 60 Volts last year, said the investigation had not noticeably affected sales. “I think G.M. has done an excellent job of communicating with the Volt owners,” he said. “We did not have one customer that wanted to sell it back or felt concerned enough to get a loaner vehicle.”

Mr. Criswell said he hoped G.M. would follow through with plans to increase Volt production this year.

Article source:

Speak Your Mind