Print 21 comment(s) - last by mindless1.. on Nov 20 at 5:01 PM

Three weeks after a side-impact crash test on May 12, the Volt caught fire while parked in the NHTSA testing center

U.S. government safety regulators are conducting an investigation into the safety of lithium batteries in plug-in electric vehicles as a result of a Chevrolet Volt fire earlier this year.

Back in May, General Motor Co.'s Chevrolet Volt underwent a series of tests at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) facility in Wisconsin. Three weeks after a side-impact crash test on May 12, the Volt caught fire while parked in the testing center.

The fire was serious enough to burn other vehicles parked nearby, according to sources close to the talks who have requested to stay anonymous because the investigation is not yet public.

The fire has prompted an investigation of the safety of lithium batteries used in plug-in electric vehicles such as the Volt and Nissan's Leaf. Lithium batteries can catch fire if the internal cells or the battery case are pierced by steel or another ferrous metal, making the batteries a potential problem in car crashes. However, the batteries are usually heavily protected to prevent this from occurring.

Nevertheless, the NHTSA is looking into the safety because U.S. President Barack Obama is looking to put 1 million electric vehicles on the roads by 2015, and if there are any issues with these batteries, it wants to find it sooner rather than later.

Regulators have requested information about lithium batteries used from GM, Nissan, and Ford, and others who currently sell or plan to sell electric vehicles in the future.

GM defended the Volt after the fire, saying that the EV's battery, which is supplied by LG Chem Ltd., pose no greater threat than conventional cars. It added that GM has certain safety procedures for the Volt and the handling of its battery after an accident, and if these procedures would have been followed, the fire wouldn't have occurred.

"There are safety procedures for conventional cars," said Greg Martin, GM spokesman. "As we develop new technology, we need to ensure that safety protocols match the technology."

Even though the fire occurred three weeks after the side-impact crash, Munro said a small piercing of the battery can lead to a reaction days or weeks later.

The Wisconsin fire, however, is not the only EV fire that has occurred recently. NHTSA also sent investigators to Mooresville, North Carolina after a residential garage, which contained a charging Volt, caught fire. The investigation is ongoing.

"As manufacturers continue to develop vehicles of any kind -- electric, gasoline or diesel -- it is critical that they take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of drivers and first responders both during and after a crash," said NHTSA in an email statement on Friday. "Based on the available data, NHTSA does not believe the Volt or other electric vehicles are at a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered vehicles. In fact, all vehicles -- both electric and gasoline-powered -- have some risk of fire in the event of a serious crash."

Katherine Zachary, spokeswoman for Nissan's U.S. unit, added that the Nissan Leaf hasn't had any reports of a fire. Over 8,000 Leafs are on U.S. roads today.

"The Nissan Leaf battery pack has been designed with multiple safety systems in place to help ensure its safety in the real world," said Zachary. "All of our systems have been thoroughly tested to ensure real-world performance."

Sources: Reuters, Bloomberg

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By lagomorpha on 11/12/2011 3:53:59 AM , Rating: 5
What is particularly ironic is that in the early days of automobiles, electric car companies believed that gasoline wouldn't catch on because no one would willingly drive a car that relied on explosions and flammible liquid.

RE: ironic
By JonnyDough on 11/12/2011 4:21:13 AM , Rating: 3
Exactly what I was thinking. Aren't a hot engine, lead-acid batteries and gasoline also a dangerous mix? You can't take a single instance and open up an investigation. We would never be able to use technology. Flight is dangerous, there have been numerous massive plane wrecks - yet its still the safest form of transportation. What we should be doing is following China's lead with the monorail idea I've been pushing on this site (and others like Anandtech) for years. The highway transportation system is dated, expensive, and not as safe as a modern train.

RE: ironic
By NicodemusMM on 11/12/2011 7:14:07 AM , Rating: 3
"Aren't a hot engine, lead-acid batteries and gasoline also a dangerous mix?"

They probably were at some point, but investigations into such problems help resolve safety issues. The investigation is not to shut down the EV industry. To assume that sounds alarmist at best and tin-foil hat-ish at worst. The purpose if the investigation is to determine the cause and ensure that there isn't another underlying issue. Failure to do so would be irresponsible. Ignoring a potential issue is a good way to get someone killed.

Regarding following China's lead... yeah, right. Sounds like their monorail is going very smoothly. I don't know what idea you've been pushing, and don't feel like looking it up. I assume by your criticism of the highway system you want a national monorail system. Either you're completely ignoring the almost total lack of success with other rail plans or you have no grasp on reality. And you think highways are expensive? Without government subsidies (from new taxes to pay for the rail) the ticket prices would prevent most people from making use of the system. Even with subsidies current smaller and more manageable rail systems are still not profitable. Not much use in a rail system if no one can afford to use it... or the country can't afford to build it... or the average person won't give up the freedom that automobiles provide. Personally I think the last point would be the greatest hindrance.

RE: ironic
By JonnyDough on 11/12/2011 1:46:27 PM , Rating: 1
That was point, it sounds awfully alarmist. I am sure that this "investigation" will lead to some sort of change in how things are done and we'll all get to driving our new electric cars which we won't support with new energy because we are afraid of nuclear power and have no real viable alternatives (except for wind) yet.

RE: ironic
By lagomorpha on 11/12/2011 3:31:41 PM , Rating: 2
Not much use in a rail system if no one can afford to use it... or the country can't afford to build it... or the average person won't give up the freedom that automobiles provide. Personally I think the last point would be the greatest hindrance.

The last point is less significant in places where the traffic is so terrible that automobiles don't provide their full amount of freedom. Unfortunately in Chicago the trains don't go through the night so they're useless if you want to go into the city for some fun and are stuck in 2 hours of traffic to go 15 miles. And this is a system that's already built and that is cheaper to use than the gas you'd spend if you drove a Honda Fit instead.

Rail systems shouldn't replace cars, they should augment them so that a significant portion of the traffic is diverted in dense population areas. All that needs to be done is to make them less inconvenient than driving a significant portion of the time.

RE: ironic
By seamonkey79 on 11/12/2011 4:39:54 PM , Rating: 2
Even with over crowded trains and not running over night, the CTA is incapable of making ends meet... even after the state hands over another pile of cash.

RE: ironic
By MrPickins on 11/13/2011 12:39:40 PM , Rating: 2
RE: ironic
By TSS on 11/12/2011 10:50:25 PM , Rating: 1
It'll be even more ironic when EV's fail because it'll be for the exact same reasons they lost out to petrol in the first place.

It won't be practical enough.

"If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion." -- Scientology founder L. Ron. Hubbard

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