GM CEO Defends Chevrolet Volt in Written Testimony, Hearing Before Congress
January 25, 2012 11:08 AM
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GM CEO Dan Akerson with the Chevrolet Volt
In addition to Akerson, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland testified in favor of the Volt
The Chevrolet Volt's reputation took a bit of a beating throughout 2011 after a few battery fire incidents. In May 2011, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted a side-impact crash test on the Volt, and three weeks later, the EV caught fire while parked in a testing garage.
The fire prompted a
NHTSA investigation of the safety of lithium batteries
used in plug-in electric vehicles. Lithium batteries can catch fire if the internal cells or the battery case are pierced by steel or another ferrous metal. In November 2011, the NHTSA conducted three additional side-impact crash tests with three more Volts, and two out of three batteries either sparked or caught fire.
GM immediately jumped on the problem, offering customers loaner vehicles and even buying Volts back from scared owners. In January 2012,
GM recalled all 8,000 Volts
off the road as well as the 4,400 for sale in showrooms in order to place steel on the plate that protects the EV's battery. The NHTSA tested the new steel piece, and said it took care of the problem.
Despite finding a good fix,
GM chairman and CEO Dan Akerson was still called to testify
before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in Washington in regards to the Volt fires. Today, Akerson's five-page written testimony was released, where he defended the EV's safety to the Obama administration.
"The Volt is safe. It's a marvelous machine. It represents so much of what is right at GM and, frankly, American ingenuity and manufacturing," said Akerson's testimony. "The Volt seems, perhaps unfairly, to have become a surrogate for some to offer broader commentary on General Motors' business prospects and administration policy."
In the actual hearing before the committee, Akerson said the Volt became "a political punching bag" and that the handling of the fires cast "an undeserving damaging light on a promising new technology."
The committee's Republican staff isn't so sure that the Volt is completely safe, however. In a report, it accused the Obama administration of favoring the Volt in this situation, saying the EV was given "special treatment" because GM is 26 percent government-owned as part of a $49.5 billion bailout. The Republican committee staff is investigating why the Obama administration didn't immediately disclose the initial fire that occurred back in May.
"The Obama administration has tied the political reputation of the president closely to the success of GM generally, and to the Chevy Volt specifically," the committee's report said. "Not only has the administration offered substantial taxpayer funded subsidy to encourage the Volt's production; it has also extended a significant subsidy to encourage consumers to purchase the vehicle; and the president has even offered the vehicle his personal endorsement."
Akerson said in the hearing before Congress that GM never asked the Obama administration to keep the initial fire hush-hush. He also added that the fire which occurred last May would not be a threat to owners in the real world.
In addition to Akerson, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland testified as well and denied that GM asked the NHTSA to sweep the initial fire incident under the rug temporarily in order to avoid criticism.
"We pulled no punches," said Strickland.
The Detroit News
The Detroit News
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RE: Right on...
1/25/2012 9:02:02 PM
Viewed objectively, the Volt is the type of R&D you want a forward thinking company to pursue.
I think most everyone is critical of the lack of quality small cars built by American companies for a decade. Implicitly blaming the lack of R&D and "forward" thinking for the need for Auto bailouts.
Yet when GM actually goes after making a forward thinking car, people act as if GM killed their children.
The sad part is most of the people most critical of the Volt do not understand how the car works or have ever driven one. I have. Its not the best car, but if I had a choice between a Prius and a Volt. I'd choose the Volt. If I had a choice between continuing development of the Mild Hybrids, Strong Hybrids, ER-EVs, or full EVs... I'd chose the ER-EV. Do I wish GM had sucked it up and made it 40 miles AER per 2008 EPA testing and 37,500 MSRP. Yes, yes I do. But I think its time to stop blame-shifting. GM would have been bailed out regardless of the Volt. The question I think should be asked...
Would you prefer GM to have the experience of developing the Volt or not? Does the experience and product inventory increase GM's long term competitiveness outside the Volt? Looking back 15 years, I think Toyota made out like a bandit for following through with the Prius, though it took 5 years and 2 revisions to get it right, and GM lost big time by not following through with the EV1 (regardless of the smart business choice at the time)
"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." -- Michael Dell, after being asked what to do with Apple Computer in 1997
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