After Fire Issues, GM Prepares for Volt "Recall"
January 5, 2012 11:26 PM
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GM is looking to pull in all 8,000 Volts off the road as well as the 4,400 for sale
General Motors (GM) is launching a customer service campaign, which is similar to a recall, on 8,000 Chevrolet Volts running on U.S. roads in an effort to address possible battery fire issues.
In May 2011, Chevrolet's plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (EV), the Volt, caught fire three weeks after a side-impact crash test conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The Volt was parked in a NHTSA testing facility in Wisconsin. The fire
provoked an investigation into the safety of lithium batteries
Later in November 2011, NHTSA conducted three more side-impact crash tests on three separate Volts.
Two out of three ended up sparking or catching fire
while the third remained normal.
GM took action right away, saying it will
make any changes necessary
to keep drivers safe. The automaker even
offered loaner vehicles
to Volt drivers that didn't feel safe in their vehicles, and said
it'd buy Volts back from owners
that requested to sell.
Now, GM is advising Volt owners to bring their EVs to the dealerships for a customer service campaign, which is like a recall but without the bad publicity attached. There are currently 8,000 Volts on U.S. roads and another 4,400 in showrooms for sale.
Dealers will address the battery issues by adding steel to the plate that protects the EV's T-shaped, 400-pound battery. This will prevent penetration into the battery in case of an auto accident, which will ultimately stop coolant from leaking. It will also evenly distribute the force of a crash.
NHTSA already tested Volts with the new added steel around the battery in December, and found that it was the right fix for the problem. However, it will continue to monitor the car for another week to make sure that it doesn't catch fire later on like the Volt back in May managed to do.
"The preliminary results of the crash test indicate the remedy proposed by General Motors today should address the issue," said NHTSA.
"We have tested the Volt's battery systems through [the equivalent of] 25 years of operation," said Mary Barra, GM's vice president for global product development. "We're taking these steps to provide peace of mind to our customers."
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1/7/2012 6:10:30 PM
Batteries are NOT batteries. Not even close. It's all about chemistry. The Volts are among the first to use more powerful Lithium ion batteries - specifically, Lithium manganese spinel oxide. They're the current best (overall) batteries for this kind of application, but they have some issues.
I believe 2011 and earlier Prius models used NiMH. Only the newest Prius plug-in uses a Li-ion battery pack, and it's much smaller and easier to protect than the pack in Volt and a few others. It may also be a slightly different chemistry. Tesla and Fisker also issued a recall over issues with their large Li-ion packs.
However Nissan has an air-cooled pack, not sure about longevity or exact chemistry, but they seem to have it bundled up and well protected. It still has the same underlying issues, but they've mitigated them well enough so far. Can't say how it will fare in very hot or very cold weather, but at least it seems to survive impacts well enough.
Regardless, various Lithium metal (such as iron or manganese) phosphate batteries can be dangerous in certain circumstances. But energy density is so much greater, they'll probably keep using it in flagship vehicles even if they have to reinforce the surrounding area more heavily in the future.
Oh, for hybrids/electrics that aren't as demanding, like the little Spark EV, they're using a different safer lithium phosphate chemistry. Doesn't have quite as good of an energy density, but I guess it meets their targets and is safer for such a small EV.
"We shipped it on Saturday. Then on Sunday, we rested." -- Steve Jobs on the iPad launch
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