GM Chief Executive Dan Akerson has said he is open the possibility of redesigning the battery, while insisting that the vehicle is safe to operate and presents no danger immediately following a crash. The company is also working with the NHTSA on proper post-crash safety procedures. GM will delay the introduction of the Opel Ampera (which uses the same battery) in Europe until investigation of this incident is complete. GM recently reported that they had 6,000 pre-orders for the Ampera.
Where many EV manufacturers source their batteries from other companies, GM builds their own battery packs at their Brownstown, MI plant. The liquid-cooled 16-kWh lithium units have been a critical component of the Volt design from the outset. The individual cells in the battery are provided by LG Chem Ltd. of South Korea.
The original incident involved a Volt that was damaged in a side impact, and which caught fire three weeks later. Further testing has confirmed a risk of fire following an accident if the liquid coolant is allowed to escape from the battery packs and the electricity stored in the batteries is not discharged.
Following publicity about the NHTSA incident, GM offered to buy back Volts from owners who were about the safety of the vehicle, but so far they are reporting that only around 50 out of the approximately 6,500 Volt owners have opted to return the vehicle. Earlier this month, Consumer Reports singled out the Volt as the vehicle with the highest owner satisfaction. The Chevy Volt Owners Facebook group issued a statement welcoming the investigation and but reporting their satisfaction with the car.
Even though the Volt collected a top rating marks for safety in crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, critics of the car have been quick to sieze on the issue as proof that it is unsafe or poorly designed. Even some supporters have felt that GM has done a poor job in reporting and handling the incident, especially waiting for months after the initial fire to make the situation public. Plug-in Cars editor Brad Berman considers GM's handling of the incident very poor and worries that it will tarnish public perception of all electric vehicles. He wrote an article titled "The electric car fire we feared and how GM is botching its response" where he said:
Not everyone agrees that this incident is this serious. CalCars' Felix Kramer wrote in response to the article:
It doesn't matter that the risk to public safety is nearly or completely non-existent, or that the dangers of gasoline tanks in internal combustion cars represent a much bigger and persistent threat. The damage to public perception of electric cars may already be done.
In response to Kramer and other thoughtful commentors (read them here), Berman retitled his post to "Biggest risk from Chevy Volt fire: Undermining consumer confidence." That's something more people can agree on.
We have emphatically NOT just experienced the electric car fire we feared. That event would be in a car on the road. It could still happen, but we can't conclude anything from the results of these test crashes. Yes, GM could have acted sooner--but to suggest that GM did nothing for months ignores its national program training 1600 first-responders that ENDED 10 months ago!