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NHTSA to Conclude Volt Fire Investigation

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Volt structural enhancementsFollowing General Motors’ (GM) announcement that it has come up with a structural improvement for the Chevy Volt, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Administrator David Strickland said the NHTSA plans to conclude its investigation soon, of Volt fires that occurred last June after crash testing. He spoke on Sunday, in Detroit’s Cobo Hall, the day before Monday’s start of the North American International Auto Show.

As this blog reported in November, the 20-mile-per-hour side-impact test damaged the Volt’s battery pack, and coolant fluid leaked out after the crash test, eventually leading to fires in two cars that were tested. GM, maker of the Volt, told owners of 2011 and 2012 Volts last week that dealers will add steel reinforcements to shield the lithium-ion batteries in the cars. The fix is similar to a recall and involves about 8,000 Volts sold in the U.S. in the past two years, reports Tom Krisher for Associated Press in Yahoo! News.

BusinessGreen writes that the repairs will cost GM about $1,000 per car. Thus GM will be spending $8 million on the repairs.

The NHTSA opened an investigation in November to determine the cause of the June fires, and GM voluntarily worked alongside the agency. Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield writes in Green Car Reports that after NHSTA and GM managed to replicate both the crash and the subsequent fires around Thanksgiving, GM immediately offered to loan cars to customers worried about the safety of their plug-in hybrid.

NHTSA’s Strickland praised GM on Sunday. “They really did put customers first,” he said.

According to BusinessGreen, GM ran four crash tests in December on Volts that had been reinforced, and there were no problems:

‘We have tested the Volt’s battery system for more than 285,000 hours, or 25 years, of operation,’ said Mary Barra, GM senior vice president of global product development. ‘We’re as confident as ever that the cell design is among the safest on the market.’

Angela Greiling Keane (with assistance from David Welch) reports in Bloomberg Businessweek:

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, speaking with reporters today at the auto show, said GM ‘worked very cooperatively’ with regulators. ‘It’s in everybody’s best interest to make sure the Volt is safe to drive,’ said LaHood, who praised the U.S. government’s $7,500 tax credit for buyers of the Volt and other electric vehicles. […]

The investigation has lowered demand for the car, according to Bandon, Oregon-based CNW Marketing Research Inc. U.S. dealers sold 7,671 Volts last year, missing GM’s 2011 target of 10,000.

GM plans to expand production of the Volt to 60,000 this year, with 45,000 of the cars earmarked for the U.S. Not including sales to corporate fleet customers, GM sold 992 Volts in December and ended the month with 4,200 in inventory.

Image by General Motors, used under Fair Use: Reporting.


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