GM Will Fix Chevy Volt Batteries to Reduce Fire Risk

General Motors announced it plans to fix Chevy Volt batteries after they caught fire following government crash testing last year. The crash tests were conducted by The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which then proceeded with an investigation.

Now, GM is asking its Volt owners to return their cars to dealers for repairs under the carmaker’s “customer satisfaction program,” said the Associated Press (AP). This move will enable GM to repair the vehicles while avoiding all that comes with a full-blown recall; namely, negative publicity and government monitoring, noted the AP.

GM believes that the addition of steel to the batteries’ protective plates will minimize fire risk. Both GM and federal safety officials feel that the fires were the result of leaking coolant that originated from the batteries’ plastic casing, which became damaged following side-impact crashes, explained the AP.

The leaking coolant led to an electrical short, which then led to battery fires that flared seven days to three weeks following the crashes, said the AP, which noted that, to date, no Volt owners have reported post-crash fires. Some 8,000 Volts are on roads in the United States, while another 4,400 are for sale.

The hybrid Chevy Volt is powered by a lithium-ion battery and has an electric onboard motor that powers the vehicle when the charge runs low.

As we’ve mentioned, this isn’t the first time lithium batteries have caused fire concerns. In October 2010, the Federal Aviation Administration, in an advisory to airlines, warned that lithium batteries used in cell phones, digital cameras, and other devices are “highly flammable and capable of ignition.” The advisory also warned that aircraft fire-suppression systems aren’t effective when that occurs. The agency issued the advisory after a United Parcel Service Inc. cargo plane carrying thousands of lithium batteries crashed in Dubai after catching fire, killing both pilots.

Mary Barry, GM’s product development chief, said that the addition of the steel will serve to spread the crash’s force over a larger area and that tests conducted by the car maker and the government revealed that the repairs will both prevent battery damage and coolant leaks, wrote the AP. “We have made the Volt even safer,” said Mark Reuss, GM’s North American president, according to the AP.

The carmaker has conducted crash testing on four reinforced Volts and found that the fix worked in those cases. The NHTSA also conducted its own crash tests on the reinforced Volts saying, “The preliminary results of the crash test indicate the remedy proposed by General Motors today should address the issue,” the AP reported. The NHTSA, which continues to investigate the matter, will monitor the crashed car for one more week.

In 2009, GM received a $49.5 billion government bailout to get through bankruptcy protection; the government took that amount in the company in exchange for the bailout and now owns 26.5 percent of GM’s shares, the AP noted.

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