As GM continues to manage public relations implications from a federal battery investigation, its executives say that while the Volt’s battery is safe already, minor redesign may be necessary and more thorough post-crash protocols are being formulated.
“We want to assure the safety of our customers, of our buyers, and so we’re just going to take a time out, if you will, in terms of redesigning the battery possibly,” said GM Chainman and CEO Dan Akerson to Reuters.
Akerson also said GM would hold off on delivering Opel Amperas in Europe until safety regulators and engineers have finalized how to handle the Volt/Ampera’s battery after a crash.
As previously reported, GM has gone above the call of duty to offer loaner cars to customers if they want them, while the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration works on issues surrounding the Volt and other electric vehicles’ batteries.
Regarding this, GM has clarified reports by saying there are no specific plans to “buy back” Volts from concerned owners. What was meant, it has since explained, is if a customer complaint escalated up the ladder, it would consider buy backs on a case by case basis.
All this said, it should be understood that no Volts have caught fire in any accidents. The perception in the public’s eye has been driven by extensive reporting of the Volt’s new technology which when put through extreme testing has been shown it can ignite.
Since the Volt’s battery pack is an energy source, GM has long said post-crash Volts need to be “depowered.” NHTSA has crashed stand-alone batteries then left them charged, even rotating one, to see what would happen.
To help balance the perspective, consider that conventional cars also represent a fire hazard, and 215,500 in the U.S. were involved in fires last year. Because thousands of ordinary cars catch fire and never get the level of media attention the Volt received due to lab tests, it’s believed that excessive scrutiny is driven by concerns for the relatively unknown.
NHTSA and GM both have qualified recent events by saying the Volt continues to be viable transportation, but it has not prevented GM’s top brass from hopping in response to put out public relations fires, even if no Volt fires have ever happened for any drivers.
On Friday, Mary Barra GM’s global product development chief, followed up on statements by Akerson that the company would consider tweaking the Volt’s battery.
“We are looking to say, ‘Are there some design changes we can make, something even more robust in this location or that location or with this component,’” Barra said at an Automotive Press Association event. “If we have to do something, we will.
“The one thing you don’t want to do is jump to conclusions,” she added.
The way GM Spokesman Rob Peterson characterized it is GM is an engineering company, and the Volt is an engineered solution. If you give engineers a task to fulfill, they will. But whether this will be required has yet to be determined.
Barra said there are a “few avenues that we think could increase the robustness for this specific condition,” but added NHTSA’s probe was still in early stages, while declining to say how long she thought it would go.
Notwithstanding new hoops GM is being made to jump through, preparing emergency service personnel to tackle the Volt is not unfamiliar territory as evidenced by this January 19 photo. This crash-tested Volt was used to train 400 Detroit-area first responders in how to deal with emergency situations involving electric vehicles. The training was part of a joint program sponsored by Chevrolet, OnStar and the National Fire Protection Association. Detroit was the final stop on a nationwide tour where more than 1,600 fire and emergency service leaders had been trained.
GM has said issues experienced are not the fault of the LG Chem battery cells in the Volt’s 400-pound T-shaped battery pack.
Barra assured those present that what ever might be done will not compromise the Volt’s present efficiency.
“We understand one of the very important premises of the Volt is the EV (driving) range and we plan to protect that,” she said.
She also said NHTSA’s investigation has not affected the planned roll out of any electrified vehicles GM has announced, particularly the Spark EV and Voltec-based Cadillac ELR.
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