The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has revealed that it is formally investigating the safety of the Chevy Volt following a fire that occurred after routine NHTSA testing. The Administration said in a statement released November 25 that it will conduct a safety defect investigation to assess the risk of fire in Chevy Volts that have been in serious crashes.
The NHTSA says it crashed a Chevy Volt as part of an NCAP test to measure the vehicle's ability to protect occupants in a side collision. The Administration says that the Volt's battery was damaged during the test, which took place in May of this year, and the coolant line was ruptured. Three weeks later, a fire occurred involving the test vehicle and the NHTSA says the damage done during the crash was what led to the fire. NHTSA says it this month tried to replicate the test and subsequent fire in further tests.
"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," it said in a statement. The agency goes on to say that a test on November 16 did not result in fire, but did result in a temporary temperature increase one day later. The battery tested on November 17 caught fire seven days later, on November 24. Finally, the battery pack tested on November 18 began to emit sparks and smoke within hours of testing.
The agency says it's currently working with the DOE, DOD, and GM to assess the cause and implications of the November 24 fire. Though NHTSA says it's not aware of any crashes that have resulted in battery-related fires in Chevy Volts or other vehicles with lithium-ion batteries, it is concerned that the damage to the Volt's batteries as part of tests designed to replicate real world crash scenarios have resulted in fire and is opening a safety defect investigation of Chevy Volts.
GM commented that since July, it has implemented a post crash protocol that includes the depowering of the battery after a severe crash, returning the battery to a safe and low-powered state, and assured customers that the Volt is safe and doesn't present "undue risk as part of normal operation or immediately after a severe crash."
"The Volt is safe and does not present undue risk as part of normal operation or immediately after a severe crash," the company said. "GM and the agency's focus and research continues to be on battery performance, handling, storage and disposal after a crash or other significant event, like a fire, to better serve first and secondary responders. There have been no reports of comparable incidents in the field."