The Chevrolet Volt is about to get safer. That's the big message from GM today as the company announced structural and cooling system "safety enhancements" that are intended to better distribute the car's energy load from a crash and, thus, better protect the battery from potential fires.
Mark Reuss, president of GM North America, said that GM is treating this as a voluntary customer satisfaction issue, and therefor it is not a recall. Still, the process to fix the cars does kind of smell like a recall, since all the Volts that have left the factory – roughly 8,000 already sold and another 4,400 at dealerships (every Ampera will need to get this fix as well) – will need to be changed, a process that takes roughly 2-3 hours, Reuss said. He would not hint at what this could cost GM.
Mary Barra, senior vice president of Global Product Development, said the repair parts should be ready and out to dealers in February. In a conference call with reporters, Barra explained the fix this way:
Barra added that the LG Chem cell chemistry used in the Volt is safe and that, "We still believe liquid cooling is the right option for the Volt."
First, we're going to strengthen an existing portion of the vehicle safety structure that protects the battery pack in the event of a severe side collision. ... The current steel tunnel of the car acts as a safety cage surrounding the battery pack. The side pole test impacts the car directly in line with the cross car structure. ... The structural enhancements more evenly distribute the load to further protect the battery and coolant line in the event of a severe side crash. In addition to these structural modifications, we are going to make enhancements to the cooling system. First, we're going to be installing a sensor in the reservoir of the battery cooling system to monitor battery coolant levels. We're also adding a tamper-resistant bracket to the top of the battery coolant resevoir to prevent a potential coolant overfill.
Since Volt production was shut down for the holidays (as is normal), Reuss said that when it is restarted "very shortly" the safety enhancements will be in place. As for the cars out in the wild, GM dealers can still sell them before the repairs are made because, Reuss said, "the car is safe."
Not everyone is so sure. Reuss said that around 250 Volt owners have requested either a loaner vehicle or a potential buyback, but he said this number may change following today's announcement. As for people who are still shopping, Reuss said, "To our potential customers, if you're in the market, we think you'll be missing an opportunity if you don't consider the Volt."
With that in mind, what does 2012 hold for the Volt? Reuss admitted that even though higher production numbers have been set for the coming year, GM is flexible and that, "We will match supply with demand."
Changes follow NHTSA investigation into post-severe crash battery performance
WARREN, Mich. – General Motors today announced enhancements to the vehicle structure and battery coolant system in the Chevrolet Volt that would further protect the battery from the possibility of an electrical fire occurring days or weeks after a severe crash.
The enhancements come in response to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Preliminary Evaluation to examine post-severe crash battery performance.
NHTSA opened its Preliminary Evaluation on Nov. 25 following a severe-impact lab test on a battery pack that resulted in an electrical fire six days later. The test was conducted to reproduce a coolant leak that occurred in a full-scale vehicle crash test last May that resulted in an electrical fire three weeks later.
The Volt is a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and has earned other safety awards from key third-party organizations. Through the first 11 months of 2011, Volt owners accumulated nearly 20 million miles without an incident similar to the results in the NHTSA tests.
"The Volt has always been safe to drive. Now, we will go the extra mile to ensure our customers' peace of mind in the days and weeks following a severe crash," said Mary Barra, GM senior vice president of Global Product Development.
GM will conduct a Customer Satisfaction Program to further protect the Volt battery from the possibility of an electrical fire occurring days or weeks after a severe side crash. Modifications will:
Strengthen an existing portion of the Volt's vehicle safety structure to further protect the battery pack in a severe side collision.
Add a sensor in the reservoir of the battery coolant system to monitor coolant levels.
Add a tamper-resistant bracket to the top of the battery coolant reservoir to help prevent potential coolant overfill.
GM conducted four successful crash tests between Dec. 9 and 21 of Volts with the structural enhancement. The enhancement performed as intended. There was no intrusion into the battery pack and no coolant leakage in any of the tests.
"These enhancements and modifications will address the concerns raised by the severe crash tests," Barra said. "There are no changes to the Volt battery pack or cell chemistry as a result of these actions. We have tested the Volt's battery system for more than 285,000 hours, or 25 years, of operation. We're as confident as ever that the cell design is among the safest on the market."
Volt customers will be individually notified when the modifications are available for their vehicles. The enhancements are being incorporated into the Volt manufacturing process as production resumes this month.
"We're focused on one thing right now: doing what's right by our customers," said GM North America President Mark Reuss. "We'll live up to our commitment to make sure our customers are delighted with their purchase."
Vehicle electrification technologies are important to future of the automotive industry, which is why GM will continue its leadership role in helping the Society of Automotive Engineers develop standards that will help tow truck operators, salvage yards and vehicle recyclers in the proper handling of electric vehicle components. GM will help develop educational materials that can be used by these stakeholders in the future.
General Motors Co. (NYSE:GM, TSX: GMM) and its partners produce vehicles in 30 countries, and the company has leadership positions in the world's largest and fastest-growing automotive markets. GM's brands include Chevrolet and Cadillac, as well as Baojun, Buick, GMC, Holden, Isuzu, Jiefang, Opel, Vauxhall and Wuling. More information on the company and its subsidiaries, including OnStar, a global leader in vehicle safety, security and information services, can be found at http://www.gm.com.