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General Motors Questioned After Electric Vehicle Catches Fire

General Motors Company has recently announced that they are developing a way to discharge the battery in Chevrolet Volts to prevent the battery from causing car fires after car crashes. This announcement comes after the Volt was crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and subsequently caught fire three weeks later, causing skepticism over safety of the electric vehicle.

Rob Peterson, a GM spokesman, said that GM is currently working with the NHTSA and will announce their safety procedures as soon as they are finished. Peterson said “We had a process internally but I don’t believe it was shared with anyone…The incident with NHTSA raised awareness that we had to develop a procedure and alert all stakeholders.” The executive director of the Center for Auto Safety in Washington, Clarence Ditlow, said “I can’t conceive that they didn’t have a standard operating procedure in place for handling a wrecked vehicle before the car went on sale…NHTSA and GM should have established protocols in place before it went on sale.” Although The Volt´s counterpart, the Nissan Leaf, had already developed and established a safety plan by the time both cars were released for sale in December 2010. Additionally, Nissan´s Leaf has a protective steel case around its battery to protect the battery from puncture, unlike the Volt.

GM believes that a coolant leak carried an electrical charge to a flammable material inside the battery. When a lithium battery is punctured by steel, a chemical reaction will raise the temperature and could potentially cause a fire. GM’s chief engineer for electric cars, Jim Federico, said that GM´s new technology reduces power in the battery so it won’t catch on fire after a collision. He said “The fire occurred because the battery wasn’t completely discharged after the test…GM developed its battery depowering process for the Volt after NHTSA’s test.”
GM previously had a process to discharge the Volt batteries but the automaker did not distribute the training to tow truck drivers, body shops, salvage yards and others who may handle or be in contact with the car after emergency personnel had finished working at the scene of an accident. The company was individually sending out engineers to check any Volt that got in an accident. If it was necessary, they would discharge the battery.

Although the NHTSA confirmed that it did not believe the Volt or any other electric vehicles are at higher risk for fires than gasoline engines, the NHTSA is currently examining the safety of lithium-ion batteries that power all electric vehicles. NHTSA is asking all automakers that sell lithium-ion powered vehicles or will sell in the future, about the batteries´ safety and potential fire risk.

If you have been involved in a Massachusetts car accident, it is in your best interest to contact an experienced a Massachusetts car accident lawyer.

Sources:

U.S. probes EV batteries after Chevy Volt fire, Reuters, November 11, 2011
GM Seeks Ways to Discharge Volt Batteries Following Car Crashes, Bloomberg News, November 17, 2011
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