Chevrolet Volt cleared of fire defect suspicions

Chevrolet's electric-powered Volt has been cleared by US federal safety investigators, with the plug-in car deemed to present no more significant fire risk than its gasoline-powered counterparts, and leaving Chevvy with the unenviable task of re-marketing the vehicle. "No discernible defect trend exists" the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said of the Volt, going on to highlight General Motors' improvements to the structure of the car and the battery cooling systems. The investigation – perhaps uncomfortably public for GM – will educate new NHTSA guidelines on dealing with electric car safety.

"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

Those guidelines will be targeted at emergency response teams and others who may come into contact with electric vehicles. With the Volt, the particular issue surrounded an apparent fire risk prompted after side-impact tests punctured the battery and coolant leaked; atypical tests – including x-rays of batteries – performed on various Volt components replicated a fire, though no real-world example has been recorded.

"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" NHTSA

In the meantime, GM has offered non-Volt loaner vehicles to nervous owners while the testing was underway, and even to buy back unwanted cars that drivers no longer felt safe in. "We did not have one customer that wanted to sell it back or felt concerned enough to get a loaner vehicle" one Chevrolet dealer told the NYTimes, though the company has missed its 2011 sales target by over 1,000 cars.