That headline doesn’t make sense.
As promised, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) looked into the safety of lithium batteries after a Chevrolet Volt caught fire back in May. After conducting three different tests two weeks ago, the NHTSA found that the Volt’s battery either caught fire or began to smoke in two out of the three.
General Motors Co.’s Chevrolet Volt underwent several tests in a NHTSA Wisconsin facility earlier this year. On May 12, 2011, it experienced the side-impact crash test. Three weeks later, the plug-in electric vehicle (EV) caught fire while parked in the NHTSA testing center.
The fire, which was fierce enough to burn other vehicles parked nearby, prompted an investigation of the Chevrolet Volt and the safety of lithium batteries.
The NHTSA conducted side-impact crash tests for the Chevrolet Volt on November 16, 17 and 18. After each test, the batteries of the three separate Volts were then rotated 180 degrees. Out of the three tests, two resulted in fire, smoke or sparks while one remained normal.
The November 16 test had normal results, while the November 17 test led to a battery fire one week later and the November 18 test caused the battery to smoke and emit sparks. The battery packs of the three Volts were not drained after any of the crashes.
The results have led to a formal investigation of the safety of the Chevrolet Volt and its lithium battery.
As if the Volt’s sales weren’t horrific enough, learning that you can most likely expect a battery fire if you get T-boned won’t be a feature most motivated buyers are looking for in their green machine.
However, GM has started a program where first responders are dispatched to “immediately depower the battery of a Chevrolet Volt after a severe crash.”
I feel safer already.
Update from the comments:
This is simply not accurate reporting. DailyTech got it wrong and people are running with their mistake.
“The NHTSA conducted side-impact crash tests for the Chevrolet Volt on November 16, 17 and 18.”
No, NHTSA conducted tests on the battery packs themselves, trying to duplicate the conditions that led to a fire in a crash tested Volt last spring. Here’s what NHTSA says they did:
“In an effort to recreate the May test, NHTSA conducted three tests last
week on the Volt’s lithium-ion battery packs that intentionally
damaged the battery compartment and ruptured the vehicle’s coolant
line. Following a test on November 16 that did not result in a fire, a
temporary increase in temperature was recorded in a test on November
17. During the test conducted on November 18 using similar protocols,
the battery pack was rotated within hours after it was impacted and
began to smoke and emit sparks shortly after rotation to 180 degrees.
NHTSA’s forensic analysis of the November 18 fire incident is
continuing this week. Yesterday, the battery pack that was tested on
November 17 and that had been continually monitored since the test
caught fire at the testing facility. The agency is currently working
with DOE, DOD, and GM to assess the cause and implications of
yesterday’s fire. In each of the battery tests conducted in the past
two weeks, the Volt’s battery was impacted and rotated to simulate a
real-world, side-impact collision into a narrow object such as a tree
or a pole followed by a rollover.”
The November tests were not “side-impact crash tests” on the Volt. They were tests on the battery packs themselves.
You can read the full NHTSA press release here:
The conditions that led to the fire are not very common in real life. There was first a side impact into a pole at 20 mph, then the car was rolled over, and even then it took three weeks for the fire to start. Nobody has to worry that their Volt is going to start burning while they wait for a tow truck after a fender bender. Still, it’s worth looking into. Already as a result of the fire last spring, GM is starting to educate first responders and second responders (tow truck and salvage workers) on the need to discharge the batteries in the event of a serious collision. There’s a learning curve here. I’ve spoken with people working on the Volt project and my impression is that they are genuinely trying to make the best product they can make. Outside of the cost and political considerations, the Volt is an impressive piece of engineering.