In response to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s opening a preliminary evaluation into the Volt’s battery pack, GM announced yesterday it would introduce a few initiatives to augment consumer confidence.
On top of the list of assurances, Mark Reuss, president, GM North America, reiterated that GM has engineered a safe vehicle.
“We stand 100% behind the quality and safety of the Chevrolet Volt – now and always,” Reuss said in a letter (see below), “I am also a Volt owner; my daughter drives it every day and she will continue to do so.”
The 2011-2012 Chevrolet Volt ranks near the top for sheer number of awards and accolades including top safety honors in the U.S. and in Europe.
But for those needing even more reassurance, the company said it will offer Volt owners a loaner car until the issue is resolved.
At the same time, GM has established a senior engineering team to work with NHTSA on possible changes, if needed, to increase safety.
As previously reported, NHTSA’s evaluation is part of a six-month-and-counting industry wide electrified vehicle evaluation. NHTSA began this after a Volt crash tested in May caught fire three weeks later.
GM’s procedures are to discharge the battery, but NHTSA is testing to see what happens when people don’t.
Its Volt-specific evaluation was announced Friday after two side-impacted stand-alone Volt batteries ignited.
GM has continued to say batteries of post-crash Volts need to be discharged. The company has said it is confident fires would not be happening if its procedures were being followed.
The automaker has installed OnStar, an onboard communications system, and sends technicians to drain the electricity from the battery.
Following PR complications from allegedly stuck Toyota accelerators, NHTSA is taking no chances. Some are observing that disregarding GM’s protocol is part of NHTSA’s attempt to cover its bases.
Nonetheless, NHTSA said it remains “concerned” that a real-world fire could result, presumably before a team from GM reaches the vehicle to discharge its battery.
While saying it is too soon to tell, NHTSA has raised the specter of a recall if it deems a public safety risk exists.
Addressing NHTSA’s concerns, Reuss said GM is confident and going above the call of duty just to allay concerns.
“The Volt is a five-star safety car,” Reuss said. “Even though no customer has experienced in the real world what was identified in this latest testing of post-crash situations, we’re taking critical steps to ensure customer satisfaction and safety.”
Reuss said any Volt owner who has concerns for his or her safety can contact a Volt adviser to arrange for a free GM loaner until resolution is made.
“A vehicle loan program of this nature is well beyond the norm for a preliminary investigation, and it underlines our commitment to the vehicle and its owners,” he said. “These steps are the right ones to take regardless of any immediate impact on our operations.”
For his part, GM-Volt.com founder, Dr. Lyle Dennis said he is not alarmed by what many are saying are excessively amplified fears.
“I am not overly concerned about this issue,” Lyle said. “If you crash any car you could be in serious trouble. We all know gas catches fire too.”
To be sure, last year 215,500 gas and diesel vehicles were involved in fires in the U.S., and the main issue with electric vehicles appears to be fear of the unknown.
But Lyle is better informed about the Volt than most, and as owner of Volt No. 8, he says he “won’t be taking a loaner.”
As GM-Volt readers know, Lyle started this Web site to see the Volt built, and compiled a list of tens of thousands of readers who said they would buy the car.
He has followed the Volt’s development since the 2007 Volt Concept through to today, and has remained a steadfast believer in the Volt as a safe and viable “bridge” technology away from oil dependence.
So the latest news does not faze him personally, he said, but he is mindful of what can happen at the public relations level.
“I am concerned all the negative press and attention could reduce the momentum and sales of the Volt and perhaps the EV market in general,” Lyle said.
And to those who are pro-EV, and in the Volt’s camp, Lyle also noted that perceived conflicts of interest could lead to wild speculation about NHTSA’s latest singling out of the one American made car that he believes is best positioned to offer a solution today to America’s energy future.
“Conspiracy theorists could have a field day with the idea big oil is behind this,” Lyle said.
As for the actual cause of the Volt battery fires, some of the talk has included speculation about its coolant crystallizing and causing a short, but Greg Martin, Director, Policy and Washington Communications said no one is officially calling it yet.
In a phone interview yesterday, Martin said no stakeholders in the Volt battery evaluation are inclined to speculate with any certainty what they feel was the root cause until the government’s determination is officially made.
In the meantime, GM is trying to head further PR implications off at the pass.
Mary Barra, senior vice president, Global Product Development, said GM has established a senior engineering team to develop changes intended to eliminate concern of potential post-crash electrical fires.
The team is also in place to work with industry to ensure appropriate electric vehicle protocols were in place.
Barra reiterated electrical fires have not occurred on public roads and added that NHTSA was not investigating any such potential imminent failure on the roads.
“GM and the agency’s focus and research continue to be on the performance, handling, storage and disposal of batteries after a crash or other significant event,” she said. “We’re working with NHTSA so we all have an understanding about these risks and how they can be avoided in the future. This isn’t just a Volt issue. We’re already leading a joint electric vehicle activity with Society of Automotive Engineers and other automotive companies to address new issues, such as this protocol of depowering batteries after a severe crash.”
Barra said the team would continue to work closely with NHTSA, suppliers, dealers and manufacturing teams to initiate any necessary changes as soon as possible.
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