Nov 15

Chevy Volt was not the source of NC house fire

 

This isn’t going to be Volt fire news week – we think – but we’d be remiss to not report that last week’s North Carolina fire investigation preliminarily cleared the Volt as being the source.

The blaze that cost an estimated $800,000 damage to a $1.5 million home in Mooresville is believed to have begun somewhere in the three-bay garage, but not with the Volt.

According to GreenCarReports, which interviewed Chief Deputy Fire Marshal Garland Cloer, after clearing debris, and pulling the Volt out, the car was found to lack evidence as being the ignition source.


View of Mooresville, N.C., house that burned with a Volt in the garage.

Cloer said, “seats, carpets, even rubber hoses, are not usually left intact” when a fire begins in a car in question. Instead, the fire spread to the Volt, just as a fire did to a Volt in Connecticut.

So, this means while EVs are still being scrutinized because they are new, thus far no plugged-in and charging Chevrolet Volts have been responsible for igniting their systems in the car.

Cloer did repeatedly stress that his comments are “pure unscientific observation” based on his professional experience. He is still waiting for data from the Volt’s internal and external Siemens charging hardware.

Not ruled out therefore, is that the Volt might still have played a role in an electrical fire in which the external wiring leading to the Volt was overloaded.

Until the fire marshal says otherwise, it remains possible that the total circuit load in the house wiring or, while unlikely, the Siemens 240-volt charger may have been the ignition source.

Other culprits at the scene were items including toy electric plug-in cars, miscellaneous household items, gasoline, a 2007 Nissan Armada, and other hazardous materials.

Since chemicals were on site, they too are not ruled out until the final determination is made.

Although how the fire started is still unknown, Cloer said the pattern left by the fire indicates it began elsewhere and eventually engulfed the Volt and Armada.

“Fires take certain patterns,” Cloer said, adding that in many cases a “V-shaped pattern that spreads out from the point of origin” can be seen from the points where the flames burned the hottest. The point of origin is evident, and the belief at this point is fire spread outward from there.

GM was also able to remove the Volt’s “black box” or vehicle interface control module. Engineers expect to learn how much fuel was left in the tank, battery state of charge, charging behavior leading to the fire, and any data that could indicate the irregularity.

Last week someone said on GM-Volt that the Volt would have “known” something was wrong, and this is true. Unknown is how GM might use this kind of data to improve future responses to emergencies.

As reported yesterday, electric vehicles are being investigated by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration after a NHTSA-contracted side-impact crash test compromised a Volt’s battery, and it was left with a partial charge to later ignite an electrical fire.

Aside from the one crashed Volt, no others have been known to be the source of a fire. Further, the NHTSA fire was apparently preventable, as the battery was not discharged after the crash test according to GM’s procedures.

Thus far, no other electric production vehicles have been involved in fires, but as more and more of them come on the road, this may only be a matter of time.

Not that we or GM is wishing it, but can you think of the headlines when a “Leaf fire” eventually happens.

But GM is not even going there. In an interview yesterday, GM Spokesman Rob Peterson said the focus is not on electric vehicles as a possible incendiary source, but on ensuring they’ve been made safe as can be.

Citing a talk he had with a GM engineer whose job it is to find potential failure points, the general public always winds up doing a better job of finding ways to destroy things than he does.

While there is no such thing as “foolproof,” GM did a thorough job, and no one is saying the Volt or any other electrical car is under-engineered or a fire hazard. That distinction still belongs to internal combustion vehicles, which also are becoming safer year by year.

GreenCarReports

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 15th, 2011 at 5:55 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

COMMENTS: 41


  1. 1
    xiaowei1

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    Nov 15th, 2011 (6:18 am)

    Hooray for obvious outcomes… albeit unscientific. Actually we all knew the Volt was an innocent bystander. There seems to be too many fail safes for the Volt to have caused the fire.

    Actually the fire from the NHTSA crash test may help GM build in some more which can only be a good thing.


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    Mark Z

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    Nov 15th, 2011 (6:49 am)

    When purchasing an electric vehicle, all electric circuits should be checked by a licensed electrician and double checked by the homeowner if possible. In doing this simple step, electrical fires can be avoided if problems with the home wiring are found and corrected. GM has done their part to ensure safety. The electrical circuit analysis and repair can make the home with the electric vehicle safer than the home with only an ICE vehicle where no electric circuits are checked.

    After purchasing a 12 year old home, I found live Romex glued to outside walls, zip cord behind kitchen cabinet walls and improperly wired circuit breakers. These problems have been fixed by licensed electricians who then return to fix minor problems with the new wiring! Checking the load for each circuit is an ongoing task. Knowing how many kitchen or garage plugs are on the same circuit is critical for the homeowner to avoid overloading when using appliances. Care must also be taken to avoid having non-dimmable lighting on dimmer circuits. Most LED or CFL bulbs need to be in an non-enclosed fixture to keep them from overheating. Extension cords must be avoided or properly sized. Home safety is an ongoing task and the one benefit of a topic like this is to redouble our efforts to drive and charge safely.


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    Nov 15th, 2011 (7:36 am)

    Amazing how some right wingers hate Volt …They just run with the propaganda from their links and dont think. GM has produced a car which is truly ground breaking and will result in less oil imports and has made advances in technology. We should cheer that it is selling and some are buying it. It may even become a source of exports to other places. That brings jobs! Alas, how hateful the rightwingers have become!


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    Nov 15th, 2011 (7:40 am)

    Thanks for the update. Are all the publications that carried the story going to provide an update too? Or are they going to decide that since the news isn’t spectacular enough they won’t bother.


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    Nov 15th, 2011 (8:24 am)

    I’d like to add my two cents as an electrical engineer with experience in electrical safety regulatory compliance and testing. GM requires that the Volt charging station be installed by a licensed electrician. It’s not rocket science but it needs to be done correctly. If installed properly the charging station and the Volt will be as safe as a properly installed electric oven, clothes dryer or electric furnace.


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    Nov 15th, 2011 (8:39 am)

    “GM was also able to remove the Volt’s “black box” or vehicle interface control module.”
    ————-

    Ha! they do have a black box


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    Bonaire

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    Nov 15th, 2011 (8:43 am)

    Apparently, the charging station was installed by the local power company, Duke. I wonder if fire investigators find the root cause to be that unit, would there be a liability fight between the power company, Siemens and the home owner’s insurance company? We did hear that Duke was saying that customers using the station stop using it for the time being (in the original news articles) – could they have known something early-on from initial investigation? There wil be errors – not every electrician is perfect or thorough.

    Glad that everyone is ok in the home, that only property was damanged and a clear investigation was done. The “implied guilt until proven innocent” mainstream media will not shine light onto this new finding and will let their original stories stand, in my opinion. Far fewer “followup” reports will occur to vindicate the Volt.


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    Nelson

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    Nov 15th, 2011 (8:59 am)

    Not to make light of a serious matter, but a Volt with fire sensing OnStar could be the best and most expensive fire detector on the market. :)

    NPNS!
    Volt#671


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    kdawg

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    Nov 15th, 2011 (9:03 am)

    “This isn’t going to be Volt fire news week – we think”
    ——————–
    Maybe I should repost my Halloween Volt pic w/the fire coming out of it. (j/k)

    I said this yesterday, but will repeat it; these stories sell newspapers and that’s why your co-worker at the the watercooler actually heard something about the Volt. They will not hear the story of where the Volt was innocent. It’s just not exciting news. This is where the rest of us w/more than average knowledge of EV’s need to set the record straight. After enough time, these “breaking news stories on the dangers of new technology” should diminish quite a bit.

    Hopefully Duke & Siemens are also doing damage control and not just GM.


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    Nov 15th, 2011 (9:14 am)

    pat:
    Amazing how some right wingers hate Volt …They just run with the propaganda from their links and dont think. GM has produced a car which is truly ground breaking and will result in less oil imports and has made advances in technology. We should cheer that it is selling and some are buying it. It may even become a source of exports to other places. That brings jobs!Alas, how hateful the rightwingers have become!

    I am, as you put it, a right winger. Yet I have been coming to this website first thing almost every morning for 3 1/2 years now. Perhaps you should rethink your beliefs of what people must be once you’ve attached a label to them. For myself it has been a reminder of how closed minded people can be to new truths when they are focused on a truth that is dear to them. In the case of people such as Rush and Cavuto they were terribly against the GM bail out. That is a big truth to them, big enough to block out any other truths that come along. People are happy with their Volts – those are just early adopters they will say. Volt only sold 900 units – told you no one wants them they will declare, never minding how few are available for sale. Life is full of examples like this and I believe it would be fair to say that all of us have found ourselves on the denial side at least a few times. Whether it be a national radio host who dislikes a car or a mother in law who won’t accept their son/daughter in law they usually come around eventually when enough of the truths pile up to either overcome or dismiss the truth they are holding on to. Heck maybe even someday you’ll come to realize not all conservatives are exactly the same. :)
    Re-reading your post I see you did start out with “some right wingers” so there is definitely hope for you but then unfortunately you ended with the broad brush. Not trying to change this thread into a political fight. In fact I try to keep politics out of it, (especially since usually it is my side that sound like the idiots when this issue is the topic…) but I do feel the need to defend against such broad brush attacks. It does none of us who support this technology any good to try to claim it for one side and by doing so exclude half of our population. The Volt should be equally at home in any garage regardless of its owners voting history.


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    Nov 15th, 2011 (9:20 am)

    kdawg: “GM was also able to remove the Volt’s “black box” or vehicle interface control module.”
    ————-

    Ha! they do have a black box

    Based on a directive by the NTSB, almost all vehicles sold in North America since 1997 are recording vehicle crash data. These include Toyota, Mercedes Benz, and Mitsubishi vehicles to name a few. Currently, only GM, Ford, Chrysler, Mazda, and Toyota have released access to the crash data to Vetronix/Bosch (a leading manufacturer of car EDRs —Event Data Recorders or “black boxes”).*

    * From http://www.airbagcrash.com/


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    Nov 15th, 2011 (9:22 am)

    ronr64: Heck maybe even someday you’ll come to realize not all conservatives are exactly the same.

    “Conservative” or “Liberal” viewpoints, a lot of times, come down to the specific issue at hand. I don’t think I could call myself 100% of either to cover every situation. Most everyone here (minus a few naysayers) believes in the future of EV’s. I don’t know if this is “conservative” or “liberal”. To me, it’s just practical.


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    Nov 15th, 2011 (9:30 am)

    I’d like to make a comment off the subject.

    I just finished reading “Chevrolet Volt: Charging into the Future”. In this book there was a great quote from Bob Lutz about the Volt project. He said,

    “This is about permitting the average American to drive fully electrically most of the time but with the backup of a gasoline engine so that if I’m on a local errand and I get a cell phone call saying that my mother is in bad shape in Chicago, I don’t have to go home and get my other car. I just turn around and head for Chicago, knowing that I’m going to get there and knowing that I’m going to get there at seventy and eighty miles per hour if need be. That’s what it is about.’

    Lutz, Bob; Edsall, Larry (2010-12-24). Chevrolet Volt: Charging into the Future (Kindle Locations 265-268). Motorbooks. Kindle Edition.


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    Nov 15th, 2011 (9:36 am)

    I read the story in greenreports yesterday and read everything Jeff reported today. I think they both were very balanced and informative. I just don’t see any need to make it about politics. Sometimes I just think some of us get up on the wrong side of the bed and feel we have to vent. Let’s pres the reset button and talk about what a great car the Volt is and how amazing it is that it wasn’t totally burned and melted inside.

    Go Volt, go GM, go unbiased investigation.


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    Nov 15th, 2011 (9:56 am)

    Another ‘right-wing’ long-time GM-Volt.com reader weighing in. Ron64 summed up my feelings exactly. I understand why Cavuto, (someone I don’t watch) and Rush (someone I listen to at least once a month and enjoy as an entertainer as much as a pundit) are so against GM. The bailout was a tough call, one I gritted my teeth and supported in large part due to the fact that GM’s competition usually has direct or indirect support from the governments of their home countries.
    As a person that lives in the DC metro area, and as a friend of former Reagan staffers, I can add a bit of ‘locals knowledge’.
    In DC the leaders of the two parties view EVERYTHING as a zero sum game. If you win on anything, I lose and vice versa. The two parties end up backing positions that are simply extreme, because to cede ground is to look like you are losing the fight. Cavuto and Rush are hating the Volt because if GM looks good, some of that aura rubs off on Obama. Which is stupid, but it is normal for DC. What they should be doing is crowing about how George W pushed for the tax credit that led to the development of the Volt and to some extent the Leaf.
    One of the reasons I like GM-Volt, is that we all back this transformative technology regardless of whether we are left or right, but because we all have a shared vision of what this tech can do, whether it is reducing your carbon footprint or reducing our nations addiction to foreign oil, it is something in which we all win. And I guess that is why I really wish there was less politics on GM-Volt.com and more news about slow but steady growth in the AER and news of coming reductions in the MSRP. The price has to come down a bit before I can afford one! ;-)


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    Bonaire

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    Nov 15th, 2011 (9:57 am)

    Did I read it right in the story that the homeowner kept a gas can in the garage near other electrical devices? Gas cans in the garage (besides cars themselves with vapor-locking gas caps) are not a good idea at all. I have some cans of solvents in mine but our gas cans are out in a detatched shed for the mower. Kids can knock the spout lid off a gas can and lead to vapors which are what ignites with a small spark if the air/vapor ratio is proper.

    If you have a gas can (whether metal or plastic), please do not keep it in an attached garage.


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    Nov 15th, 2011 (10:25 am)

    Other culprits at the scene were items including toy electric plug-in cars, miscellaneous household items, gasoline, a 2007 Nissan Armada, and other hazardous materials.

    So it could have been an electric vehicle; just a plug-in toy. Does anyone know why smoke detectors aren’t installed in garages; since garages usually have several potential dangers? Thank goodness no one was hurt. The suspicious side of me has to wonder if this property was way up-side-down or not. The cause of the fire should explain a lot.


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    Nov 15th, 2011 (11:39 am)

    kdawg: “GM was also able to remove the Volt’s “black box” or vehicle interface control module.”————-Ha! they do have a black box

    I hope we and the media are not overdoing this in an attempt to “feel good”. By calling it a “black box” we imply that there is hardware dedicated only to recording critical data that would be used to preserve a record of a catastrophic accident. I’m sure that there is indeed data logging being done in some controllers, but I rather doubt that hardened hardware is dedicated to such a recording function. By setting such expectations are we setting things up for further disappointment?


  19. 19
    Jack

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    Nov 15th, 2011 (12:07 pm)

    (click to show comment)


  20. 20
    Stas Peterson BSME, BSMa MSCE/IT and MBA

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    Nov 15th, 2011 (12:31 pm)

    (click to show comment)


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    Nov 15th, 2011 (12:39 pm)

    Jack: So in a matter of 4 months or so (avrg) there has been three fires associated with them.

    You read wrong. There were three fires where in two of them the Volt has been cleared as not responsible for the fire. In the third case, a fire declared in the car three weeks after it was involved in a crash and the discharge procedures were not followed.

    I see a blinding evidence that the car was built safe.


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    Nov 15th, 2011 (12:51 pm)

    BLIND GUY:
    Other culprits at the scene were items including toy electric plug-in cars, miscellaneous household items, gasoline, a 2007 Nissan Armada, and other hazardous materials.

    Most Nissan vehicles are hazardous. The Leaf is the only exception because it is an EV.

    Raymond


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    kdawg

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    Nov 15th, 2011 (12:52 pm)

    Jack: These cars are a joke!

    Was your post a joke?


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    Nov 15th, 2011 (12:53 pm)

    Stas Peterson BSME, BSMa MSCE/IT and MBA,

    You need a petroleum enema to clear your head.


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    Nov 15th, 2011 (2:33 pm)

    Jack,

    Hey, Mr. facts-all-wrong, you don’t know JACK!

    VOLT, IT’S MORE FREEDOM THAN ELECTRIC! ,

    James


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    LauraM

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    Nov 15th, 2011 (3:15 pm)

    ziv: In DC the leaders of the two parties view EVERYTHING as a zero sum game. If you win on anything, I lose and vice versa. The two parties end up backing positions that are simply extreme, because to cede ground is to look like you are losing the fight.

    And that right there, IMHO, is, by far, the biggest problem we face in the US. It renders the government completely dysfunctional, and it throws common sense solutions out the window.


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    Nov 15th, 2011 (4:28 pm)

    nasaman,

    But are they tapping that data w/Onstar? Most people in the IT world know you don’t keep all your data in one place.

    EDIT: ethics aside, thinking about the amount of data constantly streaming from all the OnStar cars, I don’t think it would be possible with 3G or even 4G. That would be a lot of data storage. I think GM’s hands are full w/the data coming from just the Volts.


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    Nov 15th, 2011 (4:33 pm)

    GM’s Global Chief Engineer for Electric Vehicles has today released a statement on today’s topic. It’s non-technical but brief and worth reading:

    http://chevroletvoltage.com/index.php/volt-blog/18-volt/2541-putting-the-latest-volt-news-in-perspective.html


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    nasaman

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    Nov 15th, 2011 (4:41 pm)

    kdawg: nasaman,

    But are they tapping that (“black box”) data w/Onstar? Most people in the IT world know you don’t keep all your data in one place.

    First, I doubt it —normally a car’s Event Data Recorder data is read only following a crash that deploys the car’s air bags and is deemed serious enough to justify studying the accident. I agree with your 2nd statement, but I don’t know GM’s protocol for storing crash data. Third, we all need to realize that EDRs are designed to be activated by a vehicle crash, not by a fire of either external or internal origin that was NOT caused by a crash.


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    nasaman

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    Nov 15th, 2011 (4:50 pm)

    PS to above: GM EDUs typically record the following types of data FOLLOWING a crash:

    Vehicle speed (in five one-second intervals preceding impact)
    Engine speed (in five one-second intervals preceding impact)
    Brake status (in five one-second intervals preceding impact)
    Throttle position (in five one-second intervals preceding impact)
    Driver’s seat belt state (On/Off)
    Passenger’s airbag enabled or disabled state (On/Off)
    Airbag Warning Lamp status (On/Off)
    Time from vehicle impact to airbag deployment
    Maximum Delta-V ( DV ) for near-deployment event
    Delta-V ( DV ) vs. time for frontal airbag deployment event
    Time from vehicle impact to time of maximum Delta-V ( DV )
    Time between near-deploy and deploy event (if within 5 seconds)
    Low tire pressure warning system status
    Traction control status
    Anti lock brake status
    Transmission range
    Service engine lamp status
    Vehicle door 2/4 status open/closed
    Outside air temperature in degrees F
    Passenger seat belt switch
    Yaw rate
    Lateral acceleration
    Steering wheel angle
    PDOF / Principal direction of force degrees
    And more…

    How does it work? The GM air bag SDM module is removed from the wrecked vehicle and shipped to Logan Diagnostic, who then powers up the air bag SDM module and downloads the recorded crash data from the module using the Bosch/Vetronix CDR (crash data recorder decoding protocol).

    * For details see: http://www.airbagcrash.com/


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    Nov 15th, 2011 (5:54 pm)

    Many folks dont realise that we are up against countries where labor is cheap China, India etc These countries goverment know and put $$ into the areas where they need to excel or become cheap enuf to corner the market. Just look at the solar chips ..China has devastated the production in US by flooding the market. Those rightwingers who think bailing out GM was wronf they are bull headed and dont understand the other countries. Many of them have no idea of the rest of the world and hoe it operates. My suggestion to them is read a bit on countries like China. i am sorry to say that many right wingers are wrong on many issues. I encourage them to read, compare and think on yoir own a bit.

    Without the bailout GM wud be gone and millions of jobs lost. Look at GM now they are excelling and making profits plus keep the factoires humming. Gm has done very well and now has become efficient and a productive company. Go GM. GO Volt.


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    evnow

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    Nov 15th, 2011 (6:13 pm)

    ziv: In DC the leaders of the two parties view EVERYTHING as a zero sum game. If you win on anything, I lose and vice versa. The two parties end up backing positions that are simply extreme, because to cede ground is to look like you are losing the fight.

    That is actually a very simplistic way of looking at things. Afterall, both parties readily supported some things which should have been controversial (like the “patriot” act).

    US politics has been moving to the right for sometime – it started with Reagan, but accelerated during the conservative years of Bush. Infact so much so that Nixon (the author of “obamacare”) and even Reagan would now be not conservative enough in today’s GOP.

    Rabid anti-EV, anti-sustainability & anti-government (when not controlled by GOP) are just the side effects of that sharp right turn.

    BTW, I should note that I don’t subscribe to the simplistic right-left either. Atleast we should look at 2 axis : Economic (traditional left-right) and Social (libertarian vs authoritarian). See – politicalcompass.org.


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    Nov 15th, 2011 (8:13 pm)

    ronr64: The Volt should be equally at home in any garage regardless of its owners voting history.

    I think the Volt “will” be at home in all garages, “facts” are hard to dispute.


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    Nov 15th, 2011 (8:17 pm)

    nasaman: we all need to realize that EDRs are designed to be activated by a vehicle crash

    “After a crash, it’s just a little too late to begin recording. I would think they are recording all the time.


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    Nov 15th, 2011 (8:49 pm)

    pat: Many folks dont realise that we are up against countries where labor is cheap China, India etc

    GM, Ford and Chrysler are all customers of China and India. I doubt they could make a profit at today’s prices without them. Just like almost every other industry in the US and Europe.


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    Kevin

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    Nov 15th, 2011 (9:01 pm)

    pat,

    what the heck!!!!!!!!!! I’m a “right winger” and I’m the first one in Oklahoma (redist state in the union) to buy a Volt here! Your comments are terribly wrong!!!!!!!!! I love my Volt!!!! 800 miles so far and used 0.7 gallons of fuel!


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    Nov 15th, 2011 (11:46 pm)

    Eco_Turbo: nasaman: we all need to realize that EDRs are designed to be activated by a vehicle crash

    “After a crash, it’s just a little too late to begin recording. I would think they are recording all the time.

    You’re right. In fact, EDRs typically record continuously and only stop recording when the car’s ignition switch is off OR after a crash that deploys the air bags occurs. In the latter case, the data ~5 min prior to and ~5min after the crash (see my post #30) is permanently saved. (BTW, one of the few programs I’ve worked on outside the space program was one for the US Govt in which I designed the first experimental crash data recorders —which were used on Porsche 911 race cars to verify the concept in the 1960′s).


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    WVhybrid

     

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    Nov 16th, 2011 (12:34 am)

    MichaelH:

    Go Volt, go GM, go unbiased investigation.

    You are so right, Michael…..

    Love my Red Volt!


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    Tom - in China

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    Nov 16th, 2011 (2:49 am)

    I’m voting the electric toys were guilty.

    I bought a couple of Chinese made electric racing boats for my brother-in-law’s lap pool last Christmas. Those cheap-o transformers that come with them all burned up within a week. Melted and smoking.

    Lucky we had them plugged in outside on a stone patio surface.


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    pat

     

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    Nov 16th, 2011 (5:08 am)

    Kevin and others …Glad you bought Volt. I hope many others buy it too. We need to sustain our industries in this country. We need to employ our own people. We have to take care of our own people, employ them , educate them so that we cud compete on a level basis with others. That is not the case when many right wingers blurt out talking points from Fox news – a propagnada channel.

    I hope you read a bit about China, India and many other nations like Brazil, Russia, Israel where Govt are actively help their industries to corner markets. I gave an example of solar chip production. Same is true to some extent on wind power equipment. Right wingers are wrong about bailing out GM. Look at GM now and read my earlier comment. They are employing US citizens, making profits and keeping the factories humming. Makes sense?

    China is a communist country still. people work back breaking hours in factories and earn pittance to live on. That is how they succeed. I dont buy chienese made goods and willing to pay more for items manufactured in US. I love this nation and want it to succeed without the slave labor conditions that exist in China.


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    Fast Approved Loans

     

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    Dec 7th, 2011 (5:40 am)

    Cool site, keep posting!