Nov 28

Feds launch probe into Volt battery fires

 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is doubling down on GM as part of a broader electric vehicle investigation after the federal agency crash tested and induced fires in the Volt’s battery this month.

In a statement Friday, the agency determined its fire in May – that was never reported by GM or the government until months later – was, as GM has since conceded, caused by the Volt’s damaged battery. Full proof came during the middle of this month when two crashed Volt batteries out of three ignited.

“The agency is concerned that damage to the Volt’s batteries as part of three tests that are explicitly designed to replicate real-world crash scenarios have resulted in fire,” NHTSA said. “NHTSA is therefore opening a safety defect investigation of Chevy Volts, which could experience a battery-related fire following a crash. Chevy Volt owners whose vehicles have not been in a serious crash do not have reason for concern.”

 

Since the Volt’s launch, GM has said its post-crash procedure is to discharge its battery. But this has not stopped the federal government from testing it without doing this, and now that it has managed to start more fires, it is mentioning possibility of a recall.

“NHTSA is continually working to ensure automakers are in compliance with federal motor vehicle safety standards, culling information to identify safety defects, and ensuring manufacturers conduct any necessary safety recalls,” NHTSA said, and added further, “While it is too soon to tell whether the investigation will lead to a recall of any vehicles or parts, if NHTSA identifies an unreasonable risk to safety, the agency will take immediate action to notify consumers and ensure that GM communicates with current vehicle owners.”

Starting fires

The latest fires in question resulted from side-impact tests conducted Nov. 16, 17 and 18 on stand-alone Volt batteries. As mentioned, NHTSA did not discharge them, but left them charged – and even rotated one post-crash – to see what would happen.

The Nov 16 post-crash battery did not ignite, but the other two were not so benign.

“During the test conducted on November 18 using similar protocols, the battery pack was rotated within hours after it was impacted and began to smoke and emit sparks shortly after rotation to 180 degrees,” NHTSA said last week. “NHTSA’s forensic analysis of the November 18 fire incident is continuing this week. Yesterday, the battery pack that was tested on November 17 and that had been continually monitored since the test caught fire at the testing facility.”

Among other issues, NHTSA is presumably concerned for vehicle occupants in the event that no time lag as has thus far been experienced would allow them to exit safely. It is therefore continuing to work with the Department of Energy, Department of Defense, and GM to assess the implications.

To balance out the alarm raised, NHTSA also noted it is unaware of any roadway crashes that have resulted in a Volt fire.

The agency also offered a broad-brush endorsement in line with the Obama administration’s sentiment for electrified vehicles.

“NHTSA continues to believe that electric vehicles have incredible potential to save consumers money at the pump, help protect the environment, create jobs, and strengthen national security by reducing our dependence on oil,” NHTSA said. “In fact, NHTSA testing on electric vehicles to date has not raised safety concerns about vehicles other than the Chevy Volt.”

 

Although the Volt is being singled out, NHTSA meanwhile advised drivers and others who might be involved with any crashed electric vehicle as follows:

• Consumers are advised to take the same actions they would in a crash involving a gasoline-powered vehicle-exit the vehicle safely or await the assistance of an emergency responder if they are unable to get out on their own, move a safe distance away from the vehicle, and notify the authorities of the crash.
• Emergency responders should check a vehicle for markings or other indications that it is electric-powered. If it is, they should exercise caution, per published guidelines, to avoid any possible electrical shock and should disconnect the battery from the vehicle circuits if possible.
• Emergency responders should also use copious amounts of water if fire is present or suspected and keeping in mind that fire can occur for a considerable period after a crash should proceed accordingly.
• Operators of tow trucks and vehicle storage facilities should ensure the damaged vehicle is kept in an open area instead of inside a garage or other enclosed building.
• Rather than attempt to discharge a propulsion battery, an emergency responder, tow truck operator, or storage facility manager should contact experts at the vehicle’s manufacturer on that subject.
• Vehicle owners should not store a severely damaged vehicle in a garage or near other vehicles.
• Consumers with questions about their electric vehicles should contact their local dealers.

For future updates, NHTSA says to visit www.SaferCar.gov – or, you can check back here at GM-Volt.com.

Much ado about very little?

There is no doubt the culture we live in is increasingly catering for safety, and what would have formerly been considered extremely cautious sensibilities can hold sway.

Meanwhile, others have observed that society accepts grandfathered-in dangers from conventional vehicles, having learned to deal with them as well as possible.

For example, there were 215,500 fires in the U.S. involving vehicles that use gasoline or diesel according to the National Fire Protection Association.

As GM attempts to introduce technology leading toward a replacement, it continues to make reassuring statements that the OnStar equipped and highly engineered Volt is very safe.

Time will tell what this latest public scrutiny ultimately means.

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This entry was posted on Monday, November 28th, 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: 70


  1. 1
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    Nov 28th, 2011 (6:19 am)

    As I mentioned here once before, these incidents keenly remind me of the Apollo 1 fire —a disaster at the very beginning of Apollo testing that killed three astronauts and threatened the entire manned space program. An intensive forensic investigation of the capsule’s charred remains clearly revealed the causes of that fire (primarily the use of a pure oxygen environment), which was rectified very quickly —there has never been a recurrence of fires on spacecraft since. I am quite confident the cause of these crash-induced Volt battery fires will be found & also corrected both easily & quickly.


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (6:32 am)

    nasaman,

    I agree with your observations….

    We are entering a new period where volume lithium battery cars are on the road. We will learn things that cannot be discovered in the lab. As a visible leader in this area, GM will be a target of the press (justified or unjustified). However, we must let the process take it’s course. The learnings from this will benefit the industry-at-large and the consumer.

    This ‘event’ reminds me of the Audi unintended acceleration controversy. As a result, car manufacturers made changes to reduce / prevent human error (application of the gas pedal instead of the brake). Unfortunately, Audi took the ‘hit’ in the U.S. market and has since recovered.

    Audi Damage Control
    http://youtu.be/otyax6onMWw

    Let’s hope GM public relations does not underestimate the impact of these ‘initial’ findings and responds accordingly and not defensively.


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (6:36 am)

    All cars have some sort of battery that can cause a fire in a crash. Some spectacular (and deadly) crashes with Crown Vic police cars are well documented in the Dallas police dept. I’m thinking the well-protected and sealed Volt gas tank is a much higher risk of fire in a crash than the well-tested drive battery.

    I’d drive a 5-star rated Volt with no worries.


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    NZDavid

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    Nov 28th, 2011 (6:38 am)

    GM needs to insist that all batteries are discharged after a side impact intrusion, or serious crash. Then the battery MUST be tested by GM for replacement or repair (if possible). Then as nasaman states see what redesign, of the Volt or battery, is necessary to ensure the battery is safe.

    All in all, I still feel having a battery in a crash is saffer than having a split fuel tank in a crash.

    Hopefully things will be seen in perspective, Fox excluded!


  5. 5
    Raymondjram

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    Nov 28th, 2011 (6:42 am)

    nasaman:
    As I mentioned here once before, these incidents keenly remind me of the Apollo 1 fire —a disaster at the very beginning of Apollo testing that killed three astronauts and threatened the entire manned space program.

    I was in high school when the Apollo 1 fire happened (it wasn’t numbered as “1″ until much later), and I felt that loss, especially for the two veterans Grissom and White.

    Later I read that the investigation discovered many errors in the product management at North American Aviation who built the Apollo capsule, since they were cutting costs and trying to catch up from development delays (in other words, they were sloppy!). Two astronauts that were engineers were also involved in the redesign of a safer Apollo capsule (one was Frank Borman). The Mercury and Gemini capsules were safer at that time. After a year, the Apollo redesign proved itself with the flights in Earth orbit and all the flights to the Moon and back.

    This isn’t the case for the Chevy Volt. I know GM did a great job, but we know that lithium is not a “safe” metal and its handling concerns many risks and needed safety procedures. Yet we have been using gasoline as a fuel for over one hundred years, and it will never be a safe fuel. The history of gasoline fires in crashed vehicles is a sad reminder of all those who were killed or badly injured because of those fires.

    These new battery fire issues happened under extreme circumstances (a direct blow to the battery pack) which can only happen in a very violent accident, such that the driver and passengers will not survive an impact that will affect the pack. I applaud GM for an excellent job, and I know that the Volts a very safe vehicle as driven by its owners, and will survive most impacts caused by other vehicles.

    Raymond


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    James

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    Nov 28th, 2011 (6:48 am)

    nasaman: As I mentioned here once before, these incidents keenly remind me of the Apollo 1 fire —a disaster at the very beginning of Apollo testing that killed three astronauts and threatened the entire manned space program.

    Apollo 1 killed astronauts. Chevy’s Volt sat in a staging lot for three weeks AFTER being intentionally taco’d into a pole – then caught fire because the technicians at the NHTSA were inept in dealing with electric cars – ie: they didn’t disconnect the battery pack. HOW does this keenly remind anyone of a fatal launchpad fire?!.

    Sorry, NASA, but you totally lost me with that one! Look, this might kill the Volt. The fire stories are horrible PR for Chevrolet and GM, and if they persist, it’ll be easier to kill Volt than to run around putting out “fires”…not literal fires, but media fires lit by careless “journalists” and bloggers who do not have all the facts.

    A 1960s book, Unsafe At Any Speed by a then, unknown lawyer named Ralph Nader sparked the beginning of the end for the Chevrolet Corvair. His book was really about unsafe practices in all the auto industry and the lack of regulation and oversight, but the first chapter was all about the 1960-63 first gen Corvair, and how it lacked a sway bar in the front, had a swingarm rear suspension that he claimed made it unstable and lead to crashes by inexperienced drivers. His claims really were unfounded, just as these excruciating stories re: Volt being a fire hazard are. GM’s films and engineering test data cleared Corvair in any lawsuits raised against it, and since many have written that the Corvair was unfairly singled out and slammed – adding that it turned out the original Corvair outperformed other vehicles in it’s class in handling. Even after GM made anti sway bars standard on Corvair and added a rear leaf spring for gen II Corvair, the writing was already on the wall – the poison pen killed the Corvair in the court of public opinion.

    Volt, according to NHTSA’s press release, has been singled out – completely unfair! I believe an even larger looming issue is before us and this wild goose chase distracts from it. NHTSA’s documentation lists concerns over emergency worker’s knowing if an electrified vehicle involved in an accident is a high voltage hazard. To date, nobody at a Prius crash site has ever been killed or electrocuted trying to save the occupants of a wreck or clearing the scene. There has been no ICE Prius. First responders know what a Prius is, and by sight everyone knows it contains electrical components that should be disconnected or worked around.

    I feel the real problem is with hybrid and electric versions of existing models. Camry Hybrid, Highlander Hybrid, Fusion Hybrid, Fit EV, Focus EV, C-Max Energi and the list goes on… These vehicles’ labeling may be obscured by crash damage, and they appear the same as their ICE counterparts. If a first responder is not aware of the brightly colored orange wiring harnesses and warning labels – yes they can be harmed. This is no problem with a Volt since like Prius it’s appearance is unique and immediately IDs one to the situational hazards.

    GM has announced it’s extensive training of first responders, and it’s ongoing. GM has explained it’s battery disconnect protocols and strategies for the future. This is the “silly season” where rumors and preconcieved fears spread before anyone gets their facts straight. It’s maddening in that nobody has been hurt in a Volt – no Volt owned by a consumer has caught fire or endangered them in any way. Even though NHTSA mentions this – it by no way balances out the apparent “warning” they have announced which will be picked up by all of Volt and GM’s detractors. Let’s just hope this fear-mongering doesn’t become the end of Volt, and that cooler heads prevail until all facts are in.

    VOLT, MORE DRIVE – LESS FILLING! .

    James


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (6:54 am)

    Surprised that NHTSA is not looking at Nissan , Mitsibushi battery pack and do the tests as they are doing with GM? what gives here? It will be foolhardy to assume that those battries are safe until an accident occurs with those cars? Is the battery design different in those cars? What about TESLA whose battery is flat unlike GM where the design is thick T shape.


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    MotoEco

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    Nov 28th, 2011 (7:00 am)

    pat,

    This article outlines what paths the investigators are taking:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203935604577064663206681538.html

    1) casing that surrounds the Volt battery 2) the liquid cooling used for the batteries 3) the battery chemical composition.

    The Nissan Leaf was subjected to the same initial crash testing as the Volt. No conspiracies here. Let’s hope for a quick determination for the ‘event’.


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (7:13 am)

    As with any new vehicle the real world is different than a laboratory. I am sure the issues will get resolved and improvements if needed will be addressed. Our job, as Volt enthusiasts, is to support the car and bash the people who have nothing but bad things to say and promote nontruths.


  10. 10
    nasaman

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    Nov 28th, 2011 (7:23 am)

    James: “…Sorry, NASA, but you totally lost me with that one! Look, this might kill the Volt. The fire stories are horrible PR for Chevrolet and GM, and if they persist, it’ll be easier to kill Volt than to run around putting out “fires”…not literal fires, but media fires lit by careless “journalists” and bloggers who do not have all the facts…”

    You make a good point, James, and I should clarify that I think of Apollo 1 in stark contrast to the
    3 Volt battery fires at NHTSA, in at least the following three ways:

    Apollo 1′s fire was NOT crash-induced/NHTSA fires in May and on Nov 17 & 18 WERE crash-induced

    Apollo 1′s fire caused the death of 3 astronauts/NO Volt deaths have resulted from fire or accidents

    Apollo 1′s fire caused a PR nightmare/millions of Americans wanted to cancel the manned program

    My point is that it should be relatively easy to investigate the cause of these 3 crash-induced Volt battery fires, to prevent any future Volt battery fires and to minimize any adverse PR, in contrast to the huge difficulty of overcoming all the adverse PR stemming from the terrible tragedy of Apollo 1.


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (7:26 am)

    Clearly an example of “The best defense is offence”. NHTSA failed to follow the logical procedures defined by GM to discharge the battery, and now they are shifting the blame to GM!

    This has gotten ugly as they have singled out the Volt as being particularly dangerous while stating that other vehicles are not. James’s parallel with the Corvair must be heeded. There is a real possibility that NHTSA’s actions of shifting blame and singling out the Volt could destroy the Volt as a marketable product. GM’s worst nightmare.

    We are on the cusp of a new era, with sustainable, non-polluting electric cars being introduced and accepted into society. NHTSA in their zeal to absolve themselves of wrong-doing could derail this progress and even bring down GM.


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    Foolish Greener

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    Nov 28th, 2011 (7:51 am)

    I hope everyone who are happy with Volt would also invest 70% of their fortune in A123.


  13. 13
    Jim I

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    Nov 28th, 2011 (8:05 am)

    I find all of this to be simply ridiculous.

    If an ICE powered car is in a wreck, the gasoline fuel tank is routinely drained as a safety precaution.

    If a Volt should be in a wreck, it should have both the gasoline and electric fuel systems drained for the same reason.

    GM has already come up with a procedure to do this for the battery pack, as I recall.

    So this is more about teaching people the proper procedures than an actual problem.

    Or am I missing something?

    And government agencies seem to like to make mountains out of molehills, to distract us from the real problems we all face. Plus, it lets them ask for a bigger budget for next year……….

    JMHO

    C-5277


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    joe

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    Nov 28th, 2011 (8:26 am)

    From the way I understand it, after the crash test by the NHTSA, they did not follow the GM

    procedure in discharging the ruptured battery. They had three weeks to do it and it was

    completely ignored. This compares to someone ignoring a ruptured gas tank in a regular car after

    a crash. It looks to me incompetence played into the picture.

    PS: sorry Jim, after posting I noticed your post which almost says the same thing.


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (8:36 am)

    There just needs to be an additional, systematic, and controlled set of procedures to “total” the vehicle, then send it over to a special “Decommissioning Facility”.

    Parts could be sent back to GM for reconditioning/inspection/reuse within a discounted parts inventory line.

    The more expeditiously that this can be done, the greater the retained values of the reclaimed/refurbished parts, instead of leaving them all out in some separate place where weather further degrades these highly significant values. (Especially for limited production run models). (There is just something undignified about any car in a wrecking yard anyway.)

    This ought to help insurers who need to recover as much as possible for the loss-value of the event. An entirely new industry for doing these things is one obvious set of solutions.


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (8:44 am)

    Wow, they better issue a recall on all the cars that have these things called “gas tanks”. I hear if you crash them, and flip them upside down, they can catch fire.


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    Nelson

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    Nov 28th, 2011 (8:44 am)

    Since the Volt’s launch, GM has said its post-crash procedure is to discharge its battery. But this has not stopped the federal government from testing it without doing this, and now that it has managed to start more fires, it is mentioning possibility of a recall.

    Why stop there! Why not strap a piece of plastic explosive to the battery and gas tank area of the Volt, park it next to a building and see what kind of damage a crazy terrorist can inflict with a fully charged EV. Had the crashed test Volts not caught on fire, I’m sure they would had set one on fire to see the explosive potential of the lithium battery. I would be surprised if they don’t try to ignite a Nissan Leaf just to see what would happen. Sounds like a good expensive episode for “Myth Busters”.

    NPNS!
    Volt#671


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (8:57 am)

    There is something good that could come out of this that is an automatic load dump built into the car it would discharge the battery in the event of airbag deployment this could be done by turning on all lights fans and restive loads full until all energy is drained. Would take time but would give a visual of power All with software.
    As an aside it also means I may finally be able to buy one I have not yet because I absolutely refuse to pay full list price for anything, of the 4 dealers in Illinois I talked to none would budge on price.
    Tom


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    leeG

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    Nov 28th, 2011 (9:00 am)

    If the Volt is in a serious crash, severe enough to compromise the battery pack, then it might catch fire in a few hours (days) if no post-crash action is taken to discharge the batteries.

    That’s safe enough that I won’t be losing any sleep over this.

    Is the goal to make battery powered cars completely fire-proof, or just no more likely to catch fire than current state-of-the-art gasoline powered cars? I think battery powered cars are already safer than gasoline cars in that respect, so it will be interesting to see what criteria NHTSA uses in its final determination.

    There is an up-side to all of this. If it turns out to be technically feasible to make it impossible for battery cars to catch fire as a result of a crash, then it would be irresponsible not to mandate no crash fires as a national safety standard ALL VEHICLES must meet. Wonder how our ICE friends would spin that?


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (9:19 am)

    Why doesn’t the Volt/OnStar discharge its batteries after a crash?

    Dumping power thru a resistor — hmm, the heater? is simple and since the airbags have deployed…

    Also, Why should a tow truck operator have to call “experts” to discharge a battery?

    KISS. If you have to handle the Volt special — it is going to be badmouthed. (Keep It Simple Silly…)

    “• Operators of tow trucks and vehicle storage facilities should ensure the damaged vehicle is kept in an open area instead of inside a garage or other enclosed building.
    • Rather than attempt to discharge a propulsion battery, an emergency responder, tow truck operator, or storage facility manager should contact experts at the vehicle’s manufacturer on that subject.”

    Tom: an automatic load dump built into the car it would discharge the battery in the event of airbag deployment


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (9:45 am)

    Tom: There is something good that could come out of this that is an automatic load dump built into the car it would discharge the battery in the event of airbag deployment this could be done by turning on all lights fans and restive loads full until all energy is drained. Would take time but would give a visual of power All with software.

    I would think after any serious accident current flow is the last thing you want. Cables get frayed or damaged, fuel leaking from other cars the last thing you want is a sparking EV because power is flowing. Maybe a master circuit breaker or fuse could be tripped via OnStar.

    NPNS!
    Volt#671


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (10:18 am)

    If coolant is an issue here, which the crystalization aspect identified in the May/June situation – wouldn’t it also be good to drain the battery coolant system? We have seen fire started in the battery system at 3-week and 7-day periods with first one attributed to the coolant interaction/crystallization. The current Chevy/GM protocol doesn’t say anything about coolant drain but does about charge drain. The wrecker crew could possibly do a drain on the battery system coolant while GM can do the de-energizing activity soon after.

    Apparently GM holding an 11am conference call about the Volt issue. Anyone know the number(s) to call in to listen (if public)?


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (10:48 am)

    Nelson: Maybe a master circuit breaker or fuse could be tripped via OnStar.

    I was under the impression that there was a switch that turned off everything if there were sufficient impact.

    Doing something via OnStar to a damaged vehicle could in itself be dangerous.

    These systems are getting way too complex. A simple ball-type switch could be used to turn off everything. A simple cable to the throttle body could be used instead of ‘drive by wire’.

    Even the cruise control on my 2005 Dodge doesn’t work like you’d think it should. It’s not connected to the gas pedal, so, there is no feedback when you kick off the cruise to get the pedal in the right position to maintain speed.

    I’d love to have a Corvair. They were cool. (and simple).


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    volt11

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    Nov 28th, 2011 (10:51 am)

    James: Apollo 1 killed astronauts. Chevy’s Volt sat in a staging lot for three weeks AFTER being intentionally taco’d into a pole – then caught fire because the technicians at the NHTSA were inept in dealing with electric cars – ie: they didn’t disconnect the battery pack. HOW does this keenly remind anyone of a fatal launchpad fire?!.Sorry, NASA, but you totally lost me with that one! Look, this might kill the Volt. The fire stories are horrible PR for Chevrolet and GM, and if they persist, it’ll be easier to kill Volt than to run around putting out “fires”…not literal fires, but media fires lit by careless “journalists” and bloggers who do not have all the facts.

    Thanks for that post, James, I 100% agree. The NASA fire analogy is completely inappropriate, and the reckless press coverage of this story, and the reckless nature of the story itself as created by NHTSA, are serious threats to the Volt and Voltec in the long term.

    I’ve said from the beginning that there are many powerful interests out there that would be pleased to destroy the Volt and minimize the market penetration of electric vehicles, and probably would stoop to illegal levels to achieve that. The Volt is probably the most threatening of all, because it’s actually practical as a real car, and an exceptional car in its own right. I’m very skeptical about how NHTSA has handled this so far, and GM needs 100% attention on every detail of this story.


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (10:59 am)

    Does anyone have/know GM’s battery drain procedure for the Volt? I wonder if there’s a bank of resistors you can plug into the charging port to deplete the batteries within an hour, or do you have to splice into the DC after the internal charger?


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (11:05 am)

    What? A stand alone side impact on the battery represents a real world event? That needs further explanation.

    When you don’t followprocedureure and something bad happens it should really be a surprise. Granted the issue still needs to be understood and resolved.


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (11:06 am)

    Conf call will be available at 1pm for replay if you don’t dial in now.

    http://media.gm.com/content/media/us/en/gm/news.detail.html/content/Pages/news/us/en/2011/Nov/1128_mediaadvisory


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (11:10 am)

    kdawg:
    Does anyone have/know GM’s battery drain procedure for the Volt?I wonder if there’s a bank of resistors you can plug into the charging port to deplete the batteries within an hour, or do you have to splice into the DC after the internal charger?

    I was thinking also that they might drain the electrolyte which would drain the charge without using resistive load. Might be tough to do though given the isolated cell design.


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (11:24 am)

    Loboc: I was thinking also that they might drain the electrolyte which would drain the charge without using resistive load. Might be tough to do though given the isolated cell design.

    Maybe the quickest/easiest way to drain the batteries is to light the car on fire.
    (j/k)

    Just thinking out loud here, but your comment on the cells got me thinking. I’m sure the Volt already has a safety breaker/disconnect in the event of a crash to remove power from the battery to the car, but the problem is the energy in the battery itself. So if you could disconnect each of the 288 cells from eachother, that would significantly reduce the danger. Maybe GM can develop some type of system that isolates the cells after X-amount of G-force occurs.


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (11:27 am)

    Not to feed the flames (pun intended) or jump to conclusions…if it is determined that the battery cells started these fires, could it be that GM chose the wrong supplier for the Volt? I understand that A123 battery cells are quite stable (ie no sparks/fires) after significant physical damage.

    In other words, I would think that a “safety metric” existed for choosing a supplier for the Volt’s battery cells. LG Chem might consider doing their own investigation here.


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (11:33 am)

    GM has to get WAY WAY WAY in front of this potential PR nightmare.

    Who Killed the Electric CAR Part III is not out of the question…


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (11:35 am)

    joe,

    FYI – in case Jeff was working on this already.

    ——————-
    Dear GM-Volt Readers: We value everyone’s feedback on our daily stories, but – please – don’t post breaking news or other stories that we could be working on as a post here. Doing this will help ensure fresh daily discussions, and will be better for everyone. If you would instead, please e-mail story ideas to jcobb@verticalscope.com Thank you!


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (11:44 am)

    kdawg:
    joe,

    FYI – in case Jeff was working on this already.

    ——————-
    Dear GM-Volt Readers: We value everyone’s feedback on our daily stories, but – please – don’t post breaking news or other stories that we could be working on as a post here. Doing this will help ensure fresh daily discussions, and will be better for everyone. If you would instead, please e-mail story ideas to jcobb@verticalscope.com Thank you!

    Yes, and here’s the thing. Joe got a polite PM from me explaining why the comment was removed, but FYI, Dr. Lyle Dennis took time out of his weekend to do a post on this same topic Joe tried to link.

    We thought about posting Lyle’s story today, but went with this one as it is directly Volt related.

    Really, folks, I hope you can see we’re not trying to be mean here. The forum is still open for people to post OT breaking news if you wish.

    On the home page, we only get one story per day, and do not want the surprise blown for the many readers who do not scan all breaking stories and have not seen it. Also, we put too much effort into writing here to have other peoples’ links pre-announce the details of what we are working on. It undermines everyone when this happens.

    Best Regards,

    Jeff


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    CorvetteGuy

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    Nov 28th, 2011 (12:12 pm)

    I think the quickest way to discharge the main battery pack after an incident is to plug in an industrial-strength hair-dryer. That will drain it down quickly and safely. And I believe they are on sale this Cyber Monday at fine retailers everywhere!

    spaceballs.jpg


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (12:31 pm)

    I would like to know how horrific this crash test was. I understand that the Volt has a 5* safety rating. I would like to know how the crash dummies faired in this crash; were any dummies virtually killed or paralyzed? If the crash has to be extreme enough to kill any occupant in order to damage the battery to be another threat, then what’s the point? I would think as long as the battery is not an immediate threat after all but the most severe crashes; then design safety has done as much as reasonably possible JMO.


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (12:40 pm)

    So, as I understand it, the VOLTs that were ‘crash tested’ are the only VOLTs that have ‘caught fire’… is that about right?

    That raises the questions: What kind of crash test? Front? Side? Rollover? At what speed(s)?

    I remember when we did the VOLT Training last year. The presenter mentioned (but as a joke, of course), “The part of the chassis that encloses the battery pack is made of high-strength steel and in the center of the car. If there were an accident bad enough to damage the battery pack, there would be no survivors anyway.”

    With that in mind, I do wonder what were the conditions of the test, (mostly the speeds), and then why was the battery pack not discharged immediately after the test. Also, the test should be re-run a couple more times WHERE THEY DO DISCHARGE THE PACK and then see what the fire hazards are at that time.

    The new media is just grabbing headline because there WAS a fire. With little explanation of the parameters of the test itself.


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (12:43 pm)

    IMO, it would be Tax Dollars well spent to have the FBI open a probe on all NHTSA employees and family members who have or could benefit from the demise of EV/EREV acceptance.

    Conflict of interest could be.
    1. Ties to oil related companies.
    2. Ownership of oil related stocks.
    3. Receipt of gifts or cash from oil related company or politically motivated group.
    4. Ties to Insurance companies who need reason to increase EV/EREV insurance premiums.

    Investigations are no joke when reduced to the absurd.

    NPNS!
    Volt#671


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (12:43 pm)

    joe: PS: sorry Jim, after posting I noticed your post which almost says the same thing.

    #14

    You can’t say it too many times. +1


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (12:44 pm)

    kdawg:
    Wow, they better issue a recall on all the cars that have these things called “gas tanks”.I hear if you crash them, and flip them upside down, they can catch fire.

    #16

    Gee, you think? +1


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (12:48 pm)

    Nelson: Why stop there! Why not strap a piece of plastic explosive to the battery and gas tank area of the Volt,

    #17

    Didn’t something like that actually happen during the great GM pickup truck “saddle tank” episode? Everybody knew that they weren’t safe, but they could never get them to catch fore on cue for the cameras. So the gave the fire a little “encouragement”. True story as I remember it.


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (12:49 pm)

    The Ford Pinto and GM light duty trucks with saddle tanks were scrutinized years ago because of the location of the fuel tanks. Careful location of fuel tanks can reduce the likelihood of fires in ICE vehicles but will not 100% eliminate the fire risk. It’s obvious that GM located the battery pack in the center of the Volt to reduced the likelihood of damage in a collision. Is the Volt being held to a higher standard than an ICE-only vehicle?


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (12:49 pm)

    leeG: If the Volt is in a serious crash, severe enough to compromise the battery pack, then it might catch fire in a few hours (days) if no post-crash action is taken to discharge the batteries.

    That’s safe enough that I won’t be losing any sleep over this.

    #19

    Yeah, me too. +1


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (1:00 pm)

    CorvetteGuy: If there were an accident bad enough to damage the battery pack, there would be no survivors anyway.”

    #36

    Right. +1 Or, at a minimum, the car would be totaled. So I, as a driver, would either be dead, or have walked away from a totaled car. So the “safety” aspect of all of this is pretty moot, IMHO. If the body shop/impound/salvage yard which gets custody of the wreck is too ignorant or incompetent to treat the compromised battery correctly, bad luck for them. I’m pretty sure that they would do something if they had an ICE car with a compromised gas tank.


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    Mark Z

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    Nov 28th, 2011 (1:12 pm)

    This is the best reason for lower production numbers when new technology is introduced. The cost to GM will be more manageable if a recall occurs.

    The double press of the 2011 Volt power button still shuts down the car after the recent software update. Does the 2012 operate the same way?


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (1:28 pm)

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    Nov 28th, 2011 (1:38 pm)

    If you have a gasoline car and it is wrecked, you probably should drain the fuel or it may leak out and cause a fire. Once the fuel is drained, you are probably safe.

    Likewise, if you have a Volt that is wrecked, one must consider the energy in the battery and either drain it out or quaranteen the vehicle as a hazzard.

    I don’t see the big deal for the Volt. It is just something that must be dealt with. One must be careful about the energy stored in a wrecked vehicle (whether gasoline or electricity). Dealing with a battery is just rather new for many.


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (1:42 pm)

    Noel Park: #17Didn’t something like that actually happen during the great GM pickup truck “saddle tank” episode? Everybody knew that they weren’t safe, but they could never get them to catch fore on cue for the cameras. So the gave the fire a little “encouragement”. True story as I remember it.

    Yes, it was NBC Dateline:
    http://www.nytimes.com/1993/02/10/us/nbc-settles-truck-crash-lawsuit-saying-test-was-inappropriate.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
    One good reason to remain skeptical of these kinds of things.


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (1:46 pm)

    On the GM conference call, Mary indicates that the fires are possibly root-caused by the electronics in the battery system and not the individual cells themselves. Now, when the prior statement by Rob Peterson said that the coolant crystalized and caused a short in the prior Press notes, I’m not sure what to think now as to root cause.

    Mary did follow-up in the call when talking to another who asked about the Crystalization and said that more root-cause analysis was still to be done and that they would be able to share the findings with all once that is settled.


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (2:27 pm)

    Foolish Greener: I hope everyone who are happy with Volt would also invest 70% of their fortune in A123.

    I wish A123 well, but what on EARTH would A123′s future have to do with the Volt?


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (2:53 pm)

    Bonaire: On the GM conference call, Mary indicates that the fires are possibly root-caused by the electronics in the battery system and not the individual cells themselves. Now, when the prior statement by Rob Peterson said that the coolant crystalized and caused a short in the prior Press notes, I’m not sure what to think now as to root cause.
    Mary did follow-up in the call when talking to another who asked about the Crystalization and said that more root-cause analysis was still to be done and that they would be able to share the findings with all once that is settled.

    I would be interesting to see GM’s FMEA on the Volt.


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (3:36 pm)

    kdawg: FMEA

    There was a scene in the movie ‘Flash of Genius’ where an electrical engineer posed that a certain model car would blow up if the lights were on and the car got hit in the rear quarter (pushing the hot electrical from the side marker into the fuel system). It got bypassed as more costly to re-engineer than to just take the hit for lawsuits.

    Hopefully, this kind of human life cost justification is in the past.


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (4:19 pm)

    Loboc: It got bypassed as more costly to re-engineer than to just take the hit for lawsuits.

    I’m reminded of the Fight Club scene where Jack describes his job.
    —————————

    JACK (V.O.)
    I’m a recall coordinator. My job is
    to apply the formula. It’s a story
    problem.

    TECHNICIAN #1
    Here’s where the infant went through
    the windshield. Three points.

    JACK (V.O.)
    A new car built by my company leaves
    somewhere traveling at 60 miles per
    hour. The rear differential locks up.

    TECHNICIAN #2
    The teenager’s braces around the
    backseat ashtray would make a good
    “anti-smoking” ad.

    JACK (V.O.)
    The car crashes and burns with
    everyone trapped inside. Now: do we
    initiate a recall?

    TECHNICIAN #1
    The father must’ve been huge. See
    how the fat burnt into the driver’s
    seat with his polyester shirt? Very
    “modern art.”

    JACK (V.O.)
    Take the number of vehicles in the
    field, (A), and multiply it by the
    probable rate of failure, (B), then
    multiply the result by the average
    out-of-court settlement, (C). A
    times B times C equals X…

    CUT TO:

    INT. AIRPLANE CABIN – MOVING DOWN RUNWAY

    Jack is speaking to the BUSINESSWOMAN next to him.

    JACK
    If X is less than the cost of a
    recall, we don’t do one.

    BUSISNESS WOMAN
    Are there a lot of these kinds of
    accidents?

    JACK
    Oh, you wouldn’t believe.

    BUSINESS WOMAN
    … Which… car company do you work
    for?

    JACK
    A major one.


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (4:29 pm)

    Loboc: There was a scene in the movie ‘Flash of Genius’ where an electrical engineer posed that a certain model car would blow up if the lights were on and the car got hit in the rear quarter (pushing the hot electrical from the side marker into the fuel system). It got bypassed as more costly to re-engineer than to just take the hit for lawsuits.

    Hopefully, this kind of human life cost justification is in the past.

    #51

    It happened in the real world with the Pinto gas tank, right?


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    T 1

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    Nov 28th, 2011 (4:47 pm)

    Savvy buyers are now on alert. First, Black Friday, then this. Too good to be true!


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (4:49 pm)

    Well i fthe Volt caught fire in NHTSA tests after 1 week and the procedure is that in a crash Volt battery should be discharged then GM should put a safety bulletin to the Dealers or the Tow cos that this should be done to avoid fire.
    This should become a std procedure. In a crash the owner is just trying to save his skin. The tow cos should be made aware of this. But I can see there are a lot of yahoos tow cos out there who have no idea how EV cars work and to discharge an EV in a crash.


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (5:55 pm)

    Tom,

    Very bad idea. In a crash, the first thing you want to do is turn everything OFF to minimize the chances of a spark and fire.


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (7:31 pm)

    It would be nice if an NHTSA person would chime in to this discussion. My guess is they put the Volt in an unoccupied parking lot, without discharging the battery, just to see what would happen. The other test was to see what happens if a Volt was in a roll-over accident. I hope our tax dollars aren’t paying people as stupid as some make out.


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (8:10 pm)

    pat: This should become a std procedure. In a crash the owner is just trying to save his skin. The tow cos should be made aware of this. But I can see there are a lot of yahoos tow cos out there who have no idea how EV cars work and to discharge an EV in a crash.

    Keep in mind that OnStar knows when there has been a serious crash. My understanding is that OnStar starts a process that includes a rapid response team from GM if it is serious enough to warrant discharging the battery.


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (8:14 pm)

    MichaelH: My understanding is that OnStar starts a process that includes a rapid response team from GM if it is serious enough to warrant discharging the battery.

    #58

    Well that’s a comfort. If that’s true, I just really don’t see what the big problem is. +1


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (8:23 pm)

    Noel Park: #16

    Gee, you think?+1

    Good thing this race car was at a drag strip- good thing they prepare for something like this- hmm…..electrons do not leak out, pool up and leave a trail : )

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omO8w1h6JLo&feature=related


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (8:29 pm)

    Noel Park: #58Well that’s a comfort. If that’s true, I just really don’t see what the big problem is. +1

    A naysayer might say…it is not comforting if a “rapid response” team from the maunfacturer is NEEDED to handle a crashed vehicle.

    However, I admire GM’s interest to learn about potential real world issues with their product.


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (8:31 pm)

    While I think that NHTSA has blown this out of proportion, and should have done their studies quietly instead of in the media – the analogy of comparing the Volt’s battery pack to a gasoline tank is a little off. There is a considerable difference. A gasoline tank stores fuel. You have to have an outside source that initiates the chain reaction of the fuel burning — thereby releasing heat energy. A closed container of gasoline is essentially inert until something provides the heat source to start the chain reaction. Even if you spill the gasoline, it doesn’t ignite on its own.

    Compare this to the Volt battery pack that doesn’t store fuel – it stores energy in a storage container made up materials that can become fuel. The concern here, is that if that storage container is damaged, the energy and the fuel eventually get together – and can start a fire well after the damage occurred. Truthfully, I think that if the batteries had caught fire immediately after the collision, this wouldn’t be nearly the news item that the current situation is.

    I don’t expect that re-engineering the battery pack will eliminate this possibility. It’s the nature of the beast. Just like you can get a significant shock off the tube of an old TV a significant time since the TV was last powered up. It’s the nature of the beast when you store energy.

    What I expect to come out of this is information on how much damage is enough to cause this situation, and education on the process to safely remove the energy from a damaged battery pack to avoid fires.


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (10:38 pm)

    Noel Park: Well that’s a comfort. If that’s true, I just really don’t see what the big problem is.

    Here is one quote that mentions OnStar:

    “The Volt is safe and does not present undue risk as part of normal operation or immediately after a severe crash. GM and the agency’s focus and research continues to be on battery performance, handling, storage and disposal after a crash or other significant event, like a fire, to better serve first and secondary responders. There have been no reports of comparable incidences in the field. With OnStar, GM knows real time about any crash significant enough to potentially compromise battery integrity. Since July, GM has implemented a post crash protocol that includes the depowering of the battery after a severe crash, returning the battery to a safe and low powered state.”

    I haven’t found the one about a rapid response yet. (Maybe I dreamed it.)


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (11:11 pm)

    Dan: A gasoline tank stores fuel. You have to have an outside source that initiates the chain reaction of the fuel burning

    “Outside”??
    You mean like the spark from the lead acid battery when the + and – wires come in contact?
    Or, the hot engine exhaust manifold? You know the piece that connects the muffler to the engine block.
    How’s that song go?
    The gas tank’s connected to the fuel line,
    the fuel line’s connected to fuel filter,
    the fuel filter’s connected to another fuel line,
    the fuel line’s connected to the fuel regulator……

    NPNS!
    Volt#671


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (11:42 pm)

    MichaelH: “With OnStar, GM knows real time about any crash significant enough to potentially compromise battery integrity. Since July, GM has implemented a post crash protocol that includes the depowering of the battery after a severe crash, returning the battery to a safe and low powered state.”

    Did GM know in real time through OnStar of the original NHTSA crash test that resulted in the three week delayed fire?
    Did GM notify NHTSA of the post crash protocol and NHTSA ignored it?
    Or was the post crash protocol implemented in July as a result of the original fire?


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    Nov 28th, 2011 (11:48 pm)

    ChuckR,

    OnStar wouldn’t have been registered to a crash test car. We owners, however, have several years of OnStar free.

    The post crash protocol implemented in July was a result of the “original” May fire. GM had done many crash tests of their own previously with no fires started.


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    Nov 29th, 2011 (12:13 am)

    Nelson: “Outside”??
    You mean like the spark from the lead acid battery when the + and – wires come in contact?
    Or, the hot engine exhaust manifold? You know the piece that connects the muffler to the engine block.

    I must not have made my point clearly.

    My point is, a damaged fuel tank on it’s own does not just spontaneously ignite.

    A damaged Volt battery pack apparently does have the ability to spontaneously ignite.

    That is why an analogy directly comparing a Volt battery pack to a gas tank is flawed.


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    Nov 29th, 2011 (12:18 am)

    Dan: My point is, a damaged fuel tank on it’s own does not just spontaneously ignite.

    But isn’t that point moot ? As a system ice cars have plenty of spark sources.


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    Nov 29th, 2011 (12:58 am)

    evnow: But isn’t that point moot ? As a system ice cars have plenty of spark sources.

    No. Damage a gas tank in a collision. The fuel runs out. It probably doesn’t ignite and there isn’t a fire. Take it to the tow yard. Let it sit for a week or three. Whether the fuel is drained or not, it’s not going to spontaneously ignite.

    Damage a Volt battery pack in a collision. Neither the fuel nor the energy runs out. There isn’t a fire. Take it to the tow yard. Let it sit for a week or three. It might suddenly start on fire threatening the property around it, and being an injury potential for anyone near it – including the firefighters that are going to have to put it out.

    This is why the Volt battery pack isn’t the same as a fuel tank. This is why further investigation is needed to determine whether this can be prevented, to determine the level of damage that can cause the spontaneous ignition, and to develop guidelines for the proper handling of a damaged Volt battery pack.


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    Dec 1st, 2011 (11:33 am)

    I suspect that the leaf is less affected since it does not have a gas tank sitting next to the battery. The batteries may get hot, and melt, but not create a spectacular fire like the gasoline tank exploding. I have not heard if the gas tank caught fire in the volt, but since other cars were affected, I bet it did.
    pat,