The Chevy Volt has come under scrutiny by The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) because the battery packs may pose a safety risk in the event of an accident. The investigation was opened after two crash tests of the electric car caused its battery to spark or catch fire.
A Volt battery, which was damaged in a collision, caught fire three weeks later, igniting the car that contained it and three other vehicles in a NHTSA facility. The incident has caused the NHTSA to reverse its stance that battery-powered cars are as safe as gasoline-powered vehicles. However, the agency also noted that currently there are no specific safety concerns regarding any other battery-powered vehicle aside from the volt.
Both General Motors (GM) and the NHTSA noted that Volt owners should not worry because the fires occurred days after a crash and not on impact; furthermore, they pointed out that gasoline-powered vehicles are at risk of catching fire when damaged.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, more than 250,000 vehicle fires occur each year in the United States, resulting in approximately 500 deaths. If the investigation reveals other risks, it could impact the Obama administration’s efforts to get a million electric vehicles on the road by 2025. In addition, it could strike a blow to GM ‘a current effort to reinvent its image with the eco-friendly volt.
NHTSA officials are requesting information from all electric-car makers in regard to engineering details and steps recommended to ensure safety following an accident. A major goal is to make sure that vehicles are handled properly by first responders to a crash. “The NHTSA 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 agency said in a November 25 statement. According to GM, the vehicle has been extensively tested and is safe. The Volt fires occurred at a minimum of a week after the tests. In a real-world crash, safety procedures call for the battery to be disconnected and the vehicle taken to a repair facility, not to be left sitting.
At issue are the powerful lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars such as the Volt and Nissan Motor Co.’s Leaf. In 2012, Toyota Motor Corp. and Ford Motor Co. plan to start selling electric vehicles that use such batteries. In recent years, lithium-ion batteries have been recalled by the manufacturer because the batteries could catch fire if they overheated. Both Dell and Apple were forced to recall millions of laptop batteries.
The Volt has been on the short list for eco-conscious Angelenos who desire to take the sting out of gasoline prices, which are higher than the national average in L.A. For short trips, it can be run entirely on electric power. For longer trips, when the battery runs out of juice, it can switch to its gasoline engine.