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GM Issues Solutions For Volt Fire Hazards

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On: Mon, Jan 9, 2012 at 10:34AM | By: Chris Weiss


GM Issues Solutions For Volt Fire Hazards

On November 25, the National Highway Safety Transportation Administration opened up an investigation on the Chevy Volt's battery. The investigation was in response to a Volt that had crashed during NHTSA testing in May and subsequently caught fire, an occurrence that was attributed to leaking coolant from the lithium-ion battery. Subsequent NHTSA testing also led to fire, causing the agency to open an official investigation on the issue.

The NHTSA's investigation remains ongoing, but Chevy has offered a solution to the issue.

GM has said the reason for the NHTSA's issues was that the battery was not depowered, something that GM's protocol calls for in the event of a crash. GM developed the protocol after the NHTSA's original incident in June, however.

Even the hint of battery fire problems has the potential to wreak havoc on the sales of the already underperforming Volt, so GM has gone above and beyond to take care of the problem. Shortly after the NHTSA announced its investigation, GM offered loaner cars to Volt owners worried about safety problems. It also promised to work closely with the NHTSA on developing a solution and ensuring the safety of drivers. It issued the solution earlier this week.

"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," Mary Barra, GM senior vice president of Global Product Development, said in a press release.

GM is calling the move a "Customer Satisfaction Program," but for owners it will operate much like a recall. Chevy will begin notifying Volt owners when it is ready to install the new equipment. Enhancements include structural strengthening designed to better protect the battery pack from side impacts, a battery coolant level sensor and a tamper-resistant bracket atop the coolant reservoir that will prevent coolant overflow.

GM says that it conducted four tests of the new enhancements last month and they performed as designed, preventing battery intrusion and coolant leakage, the two factors that the NHTSA has determined must be present for a fire to occur.

Barra explained: "These enhancements and modifications will address the concerns raised by the severe crash tests. 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."

In a statement about GM's efforts, the NHTSA said:

"NHTSA crashed a Chevy Volt retrofitted with GM’s newly designed steel reinforcement device in a side-pole impact test on December 22. The results of that crash test showed no intrusion into the vehicle’s battery compartment, and no coolant leakage was apparent. As a precaution, NHTSA has monitored the crashed vehicle since the test and will continue to do so for one more week. However, the preliminary results of the crash test indicate the remedy proposed by General Motors today should address the issue of battery intrusion."

GM is also incorporating the new changes into Volt manufacturing as of this month.

The NHTSA will conclude its investigation and make its findings public within the "coming weeks."

PRESS RELEASE

GM Announces Enhancements to Chevrolet Volt

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.

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Stephy21 | 9:02AM (Tue, Jan 10, 2012)

It's a good thing they found a solution to the problem and our offering to fix all Volts. maybe this will bring their sales up.



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