The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was carrying out a series of tests on the Chevy Volt in June through a testing agency. After one of those tests were performed the Chevrolet Volt was stored in a storage area for a number of weeks after the May 12th, 2011 crash date. After the car sat for a period of time a fire started in the Chevrolet Volt. Statements from GM (NYSE:GM) have lead investigators to believe that a coolant leak carried electrical currents inside the lithium-ion battery starting the fire.
After the NHTSA announced it’s formal investigation and inquiry into the safety of lithium batteries GM started forming a procedure to deactivate the batteries. The process is called discharging the battery or a lithium-ion depowering battery process. It was mentioned on Chevrolet VoltAge about the NHTSA and GM’s plans, “GM, NHTSA and other manufacturers are developing protocols to handle electric vehicle batteries after severe crashes, just as they have processes to handle crashed gas-powered cars and trucks. These protocols, when developed, will help dealers, salvage yards and collision shops to safely depower batteries.”
Most auto enthusiasts, magazines and industry leading professionals are still saying that the Chevy Volt is safe. What happened in the fire from the May test is the missed step of depowering the lithium-ion battery. GM has put in place a program that after any wreck with a Chevrolet Volt they’ll send engineers out to observe the situation and depower the lithium battery by draining it.
GM’s statement from their GM News & Media page makes it clear that they feel the Chevy Volt’s batteries are still safe and the car has crash ratings that exceed most cars in the industry. GM says about the safety of the car, “First and foremost, I want to make this very clear: the Volt is a safe car. We are working cooperatively with NHTSA as it completes its investigation. However, NHTSA has stated that based on available data, there’s no greater risk of fire with a Volt than a traditional gasoline-powered car.”
Other auto manufacturers have put in place safety protocols for their cars before tests. Nissan had put out documents and trainings for fire fighters and first responders on how to take care of the Leaf electric vehicle in case of a collision. There is a step in the process that requires disconnecting the battery to keep it from catching on fire from other components entering it’s safe containers. Bob Yakushi who is the product safety director of Nissan North America (NASDAQ:NSANY) said, “After emergency workers stabilize the scene, Nissan recommends a Leaf be towed to one of its dealers where the battery will be handled by technicians.”
- Leaked coolant probed in Chevy Volt fires (content.usatoday.com)
- GM’s Volt Battery Fires Threaten to Disrupt ‘Moon Shot’: Cars (businessweek.com)
- GM May Redesign Chevrolet Volt Battery Pack (wired.com)