The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's official word on the Chevrolet Volt fire incident is out, and it's all good. Following a two-month investigation into the crash test that resulted in a fire three weeks after the fact last summer, NHTSA says it "does not believe that Chevy Volts or other electric vehicles pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered vehicles." Going further, NHTSA said the the Volt is safe to drive because, "no discernible defect trend exists and that the vehicle modifications recently developed by General Motors reduce the potential for battery intrusion resulting from side impacts." This sure sounds like good news, but we'll almost certainly hear about the political ramifications at some point.

For its part, GM says that NHTSA's decision to close the investigation and the resulting stance that plug-ins are safe, "is consistent with the results of our internal testing and assessment." GM also said that it remains "proud of the technological innovation the Volt represents." See the full statements from both the NHTSA and GM after the break.
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NHTSA Statement on Conclusion of Chevy Volt Investigation

January 20, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC - The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released the following statement today regarding the conclusion of its safety defect investigation into the post-crash fire risk of Chevy Volts (PE11037):

Today, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration closed its safety defect investigation into the potential risk of fire in Chevy Volts that have been involved in a serious crash. Opened on November 25, the agency's investigation has concluded that no discernible defect trend exists and that the vehicle modifications recently developed by General Motors reduce the potential for battery intrusion resulting from side impacts.

NHTSA remains unaware of any real-world crashes that have resulted in a battery-related fire involving the Chevy Volt or any other electric vehicle. NHTSA continues to believe that electric vehicles show great promise as a safe and fuel-efficient option for American drivers. However, as the reports released in conjunction with the closure of the investigation today indicate, fires following NHTSA crash tests of the vehicle and its battery components - and the innovative nature of this emerging technology - led the agency to take the unusual step of opening a safety defect investigation in the absence of data from real-world incidents.

Based on the available data, NHTSA does not believe that Chevy Volts or other electric vehicles pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered vehicles. Generally all vehicles have some risk of fire in the event of a serious crash. However, electric vehicles have specific attributes that should be made clear to consumers, the emergency response community, and tow truck operators and storage facilities. Recognizing these considerations, NHTSA has developed interim guidance - with the assistance of the National Fire Protection Association, the Department of Energy, and others - to increase awareness and identify appropriate safety measures for these groups. The agency expects this guidance will help inform the ongoing work by NFPA, DOE, and vehicle manufacturers to educate the emergency response community, law enforcement officers, and others about electric vehicles.

For additional information on the Volt investigation and others, visit www.SaferCar.gov.


GM Statement

NHTSA's decision to close their investigation is consistent with the results of our internal testing and assessment. The engineering enhancements that GM announced January 5, 2012 will provide additional protection for the battery minimizing the risk of a post-crash fire in the days and weeks after a severe crash and rollover.

The voluntary action that GM is taking is intended to make a safe vehicle even safer. In fact, the Volt has earned top safety ratings from key 3rd party organizations and is a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

GM is proud of the technological innovation the Volt represents. We appreciate the confidence our Volt customers continued to provide during the investigation. Our overriding commitment will always be to provide our customers with the best ownership experience and peace of mind in the industry and we're focused on delivering that every day.


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  • 35 Comments
      Grendal
      • 3 Years Ago
      The damage is done. I work with the public and was having a discussion about cars. I mentioned my next car would be an EV and the person I was talking to said, "Gosh, I hope yours doesn't catch on fire like those other ones." The propaganda was successful. The general public now thinks that EV's catch fire.
        marcopolo
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Grendal
        @Grendal I fear you may be right. I have been getting the same responses. One of our employees who is a regular user of one of our Blade Electron EV's, was startled to discover her parents being very upset that "she was forced to drive one of those cars that catch fire !" . I let her take my Lexus GS 450h home for the night to show her parents that EV's don't catch fire. The Lexus brand name seemed to reassure her parents, which is why prestige vehicles with EV technology can prove useful to allay unfounded rumours. Our insurance broker rang to ask me about extra fire premiums for our EV's, but I headed him off by getting in first and asking for a reduced payment for not storing flammable liquids! Hopefully, it will die out.
        Grendal
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Grendal
        It'll probably be a couple decades before it fades away. Every EV car fire (every single one - really) will make the news for the next five to ten years. And statistics that there are more ICE fires than EV fires will be ignored in order to keep the sensationalism alive. I don't believe in conspiracy theories. Big oil had nothing to do with it. I just think that it's a sensational story so the media will milk it for all it's worth. The fact that it is all BS and hype is beside the point. It will be brought up as a political hot point during the US election - just watch...
      DarylMc
      • 3 Years Ago
      It's a negative way of putting it. "Based on the available data, NHTSA does not believe that Chevy Volts or other electric vehicles pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered vehicles." Or they could have said "Based on the available data, NHTSA believes that gasoline-powered vehicles pose a greater risk of fire than Chevy Volts or other electric vehicles. " It's a bit like saying " not smoking during pregnancy does not harm your baby" and is not addressing the misconceptions that have been spread by some people to challenge the Volt's very existence.
        Ernie Dunbar
        • 3 Years Ago
        @DarylMc
        True. However, you can bet all your steel marbles that the press organizations that covered the original story (especially the ones that were particularly enthusiastic) that led to this investigation won't say a thing about its results, regardless of how its worded. As such, the minds already swayed will not be changed. Propaganda 101, really.
          PR
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Ernie Dunbar
          Even worse, when those with swayed minds are told of this conclusion, they will disregard it out of hand.
          PR
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Ernie Dunbar
          It looks like it only took 9 hours for my prediction to come true right here on this page. See Levine Levine's post above. *sigh* So predictable.
      EZEE
      • 3 Years Ago
      We have been saying that the whole time... No matter what the device - shut down, release stored energy, verify stored energy is released prior to maintenance/modification/destruction, verify stored energy is released, proceed. Stored energy includes: * Electric * Hydraulic * Pneumatic * Steam * Etc (like, shut down nuclear reactor prior to stopping cooling water flow....).... It don't take no PhD (as my drill sergeant used to say).
        Spec
        • 3 Years Ago
        @EZEE
        Indeed. Anyway that you have enough energy stored that can move a 3000 pound vehicle around, you have a dangerous situation. And whether it is gasoline, hydrogen, compressed air, electrical charge, fly-wheel momentum, etc. . . . that energy can be quite dangerous when released quickly in an accident.
        PR
        • 3 Years Ago
        @EZEE
        Even horse and buggies were a fire hazard. Spontaneous combustion of horse fuel (hay) is a very real danger, and a very real event that still happens when moisture and sun conditions are just right. Not to mention wild fires spreading like, well, wild fire through horse fuel supply plants (fields of grass). If you want a mode of transportation completely free of the risk of fire, pretty much the only solution is a good pair of flame-resistant work boots. No wooden clogs, please.....
          EZEE
          • 3 Years Ago
          @PR
          100% correct. One of the places I visited for my safet job had that same issue with types of top soil. People in loaders were constantly moving and turning over mountains of top soil to prevent it from bursting into flame, which oddly is what te Washington post accused the volt of! :D
      JeremyD
      • 3 Years Ago
      My god, this article just hit Engadget... if you would like to kill brain cells in droves, just read the comments: http://www.engadget.com/2012/01/24/chevy-volt-safe-from-fire-hazard-after-all-says-government/
      JeremyD
      • 3 Years Ago
      BTW if you are still afraid your Volt will spontaneously combust, I will gladly trade you my loaded Cruze ECO (which i love) for your Volt :).
      SpeedyRacer
      • 3 Years Ago
      Hopefully the changes GM made will improve the Volt's side impact performance to where it exceeds that of ICE vehicles. I also hope other EV manufacturers are paying attention and will properly design their products from the get go. Nissan's LEAF is bulletproof, the Tesla worries me. Having so many cells, immersed in flammable liquid coolant, so close to the perimeter of the vehicle is not a recipe for success. I only hope it is OK; I worry they will poison the well for everyone. This reminds me of the state of the art of ICE vehicles back in the 70's. Many manufacturers still placed fuel tanks between the rear bumper and rear axle. Post Ford Pinto we now see most fuel tanks in the most secure place possible, under the rear seat. Not coincidentally, the Nissan LEAF also has its batteries there, where they are as safe as possible. All EVs should not be grouped together when talking about safety any more than ICE vehicles should.
        Letstakeawalk
        • 3 Years Ago
        @SpeedyRacer
        "Hopefully the changes GM made will improve the Volt's side impact performance to where it exceeds that of ICE vehicles." The Volt already has a five-star rating for side impacts, making it better currently than many ICEs. When comparing overall safety ratings, the Volt is way at the top of the list, besting even the Mercedes C-Class. http://news.consumerreports.org/cars/2011/06/chevrolet-volt-earns-strong-ratings-in-government-crash-tests.html
        JakeY
        • 3 Years Ago
        @SpeedyRacer
        @DarylMc In the right conditions, coolant can be flammable (because the 50% of Propylene glycol antifreeze usually in coolant is flammable in the right conditions). However, I still see it as much safer in a battery pack than near a hot engine in a ICE car, because the battery never reaches anywhere near the ignition point of coolant which is about 700 degrees Farenheit given the pack is kept near room temperature, while an engine, esp. the exhaust temperatures can definitely reach past 700F. Plus it is in a 50/50 mix almost all the time (which greatly reduces its ignition potential), so coolant is very rarely a fire starter even in ICE cars. So that flammable point is mainly just FUD from SpeedyRacer. The danger of coolant in an EV is not from its flammable property, but rather because it can cause short circuits. This was the cause of the Volt's fire: "During a portion of testing in which the vehicle is rotated upside-down, coolant leaked onto printed circuit board electronics on top of the battery. But it was only three weeks later that those conditions, plus a still-charged battery, resulted in a short circuit and fire. " http://ev.sae.org/article/10528
        DaveMart
        • 3 Years Ago
        @SpeedyRacer
        I'd imagine it already exceeded petrol cars by a huge margin before the improvement. Basically petrol is pretty flammable, and huge numbers of fires every year bear witness to this. The NHTSA was just making sure of safety and setting the bar high for a new technology, which it has no great difficulty jumping. Its a good thing too, as we are now going to have unparalleled levels of protection from fire, which no petrol car can possibly match. Don't forget that this fire did not happen until 3 weeks after the test!
        DarylMc
        • 3 Years Ago
        @SpeedyRacer
        Ernie I'm pretty sure the coolant is not a flamable liquid.
      Nick
      • 3 Years Ago
      What normal people have been saying since the beginning: This story has been blown out of proportion by far-right, anti-efficiency, pro-oil GOPers and their propaganda machine. The Chevrolet Volt is an outstanding car, one for true patriots.
        EZEE
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Nick
        Oddly, your 'patriots' comment reminded me of the Family Guy episode where Rush Limbaugh (duh-duh-DUHHHHHH) commented on the Hummer: "I'm not saying that you have to be gay to drive anything else. All I'm saying is that if you do drive something else, you're probably the kind of guy that likes to pleasure other men sexually." And NOOOOOOO I don't believe that (I drive a Fusion and a Ranger), but it struck me as funny....
      Levine Levine
      • 3 Years Ago
      Another government cover-up in an attempt to save stupid GM management from disaster.
        marcopolo
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Levine Levine
        @Levine Levine Why do you always turn up in the absence of DF? With exactly the same idiotic remarks? @PR, "That way you guys can alienate GM product owners too, just like the right has alienated gays, Hispanics, Blacks, Women who take birth control, union firefighters, union cops, union teachers, Prius owners, ethanol users, etc..." Why is everything with you a party political broadcast ? Truth is, you would be anti-GM if it wasn't being attacked by the ultra right as a means of criticising the current administration. You are entitled to support what ever candidate you choose, but continually hurling abuse at anyone you consider "the enemy" is pointless, and counter-productive. Levine Levene, (DF) is just a irritating nutter , not an excuse for a political tirade.
          PR
          • 3 Years Ago
          @marcopolo
          The truth hurts, huh marco? If it isn't worth a "political tirade" on my behalf, why the "political tirade" on your behalf in response?
        JeremyD
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Levine Levine
        I want whatever this guy is smoking...
        PR
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Levine Levine
        Hey, Right-wing-Levine --- As a right-winger, please keep up with the relentless politically motivated bashing of GM. That way you guys can alienate GM product owners too, just like the right has alienated gays, Hispanics, Blacks, Women who take birth control, union firefighters, union cops, union teachers, Prius owners, ethanol users, etc... With GM returning to being the NUMBER ONE car maker in the world, that gives you guys on the right plenty of more folks to alienate and drive away. Keep up the good work!!
      Penn State EcoCAR 2
      • 3 Years Ago
      It's good to hear the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's official report about this. I'm a member of Penn State's EcoCAR 2 team, and we're redesigning a vehicle to decrease emissions and increase efficiency. But most importantly, we always consider safety before any other factor. I think the Volt's architecture has incredible potential.
      Ryan
      • 3 Years Ago
      I took a ride in the Volt and didn't catch on fire. :) After looking at other car makers battery layouts (Coda, Hyundai, Tesla) at the auto show, they have flat and wide batteries that would be much more damaged in a side impact. Just because this story was blown way out of proportion to make the right feel good, the engineering issue is still there.
        EZEE
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Ryan
        You smile (and I laughed) about riding in one and it not exploding, but I am reminded of that Washington Post editorial where they implied it blew up during 'road tests.'
        JakeY
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Ryan
        That's completely unfounded. The Leaf has a flat and wide battery and it didn't have any issues. The Volt has a tunnel based battery and it DID have issues. People keep forgetting that. There is nothing inherently less safe about a flat battery in a side impact as long as there is adequate reinforcement.
          JakeY
          • 3 Years Ago
          @JakeY
          @theflew "The Volt battery only had an issue because of a coolant leak 3 weeks later." True, but the root cause of the leak was not enough reinforcement of the battery enclosure, which allowed intrusion into it in a side impact. The tunnel design didn't help it one bit in that regard! That's why I find it extremely dubious that a tunnel design is going to be significantly better than a flat design in a side impact, although a lot of people keep bringing up that point even knowing the Volt was a tunnel design. The crucial factor is the amount of reinforcement to prevent intrusion into the battery enclosure during a side impact; the shape is secondary.
          theflew
          • 3 Years Ago
          @JakeY
          The Volt battery only had an issue because of a coolant leak 3 weeks later. Remember we don't know how the Nissan's battery will fair 3, 5, 8 years down the road due to the lack of liquid heating/cooling. Ford, Tesla, Fisker and GM thought it was necessary, but maybe Nissan is right. At the very least it allowed them to get a car out quicker and relatively cheaply and it avoids issues like this.
      DaveMart
      • 3 Years Ago
      'Road toasts, perhaps?'
      • 3 Years Ago
      It's still over priced and inferior to the Leaf, Tesla, Prius, et al... Not to mention the ugly GM styling. But hey, kudos on the not blowing up thing, you have that going for you.
        JeremyD
        • 3 Years Ago
        Where could one buy a PHEV version of the LEAF or Tesla? Just trolling, that's cool, I will admit that I do that sometimes too.
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