[Oeva-list] FW: [calcars-news] Volt Battery Fires: Potential Crisis Defused?
bdlockhart at flyglobalnow.com
Fri Dec 2 15:50:40 PST 2011
This was passed on to me from a co-worker.
Vice President/Director of Maintenance
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From: calcars-news at yahoogroups.com [mailto:calcars-news at yahoogroups.com] On
Behalf Of Felix Kramer
Sent: Thursday, December 01, 2011 23:33
Subject: [calcars-news] Volt Battery Fires: Potential Crisis Defused?
Since the first reports of Volt fires in battery tests conducted by
the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), we've
held off from commenting while GM and the agency released
chronologies and details. Now we weigh in with some big-picture
comments, our quick technical analysis, links to Volt owner
responses, and GM's message to owners. We encourage you to pass this on!
(Shortly after it goes out on email, this posting will also be
viewable at http://www.calcars.org/news-archive.html -- there you can
add CalCars-News to your RSS feed.)
WHY FIRES HAVE BEEN A WORRY FOR YEARS. Since 2004, when we first
started adding batteries to Priuses to show the benefits of plugging
in, people throughout the industry have worried that a single
incident by garage engineers or small conversion companies could set
back progress. 2007-09 saw a handful of fires in parked vehicles. In
every case, we and others were able to make clear that the batteries
were not the source of the incidents.
IS THERE NOW A WORRY ABOUT THE SAFETY OF MASS-PRODUCED PLUG-IN CARS?
Not really: there have been no fires in cars at the time of crashes.
And it looks like owners. experts, and the media recognize that what
happens to batteries AFTER crashes (or even more extreme
test-crashes) is a separate issue.
Even the anti-EV demagogues have been a bit restrained. Could that be
because so many reports now cite the frequency of fires in internal
combustion vehicles? In 2010, all vehicle types in the US had 184,500
fires, mostly from liquid fuel tanks, resulting in 285 civilian
deaths, 1,440 civilian injuries and $1 billion in direct property
damage. Data from National Fire Protection Association report on all
GM'S OFFER OF LOANER CARS TO 5,000 VOLT OWNERS WAS A SMART MOVE. And
the response was telling: only a handful of people took them up.
We're hearing about people who always wanted to drive a Corvette.
Others who had signed up for GM's very favorable lease terms ($2,500
down + $350/month for three years) saw an opportunity to avoid going
over their 36,000 mile allowance.
John Voelker reports that owners are "ecstatically happy with their
cars." Consumer Reports in its annual survey asked, "Considering all
factors (price, reliability, comfort, enjoyment, etc.), would you get
this car if you had it to do all over again?" 93% of Volt owners
responding said yes, making the Volt is the highest-rated car in
CR's national survey.
OUR PERSONAL VIEWS: Before our analysis, what about Felix (VIN #9),
with 13,106 miles on his Volt, and Ron (VIN #24), with 6,437 miles?
After 344 days since taking delivery
http://www.calcars.org/photos-plugins-arrive.html , we count
ourselves among the "ecstatically happy." We believe GM has built an
amazing car. (At the same time, we have frequently described ways the
cars could be even better -- mostly in usability issues!) Ron, having
owned two BMWs, a Corvette, and the first converted Prius, considers
the Volt by far the best of all.
And in the past week, the company has engaged pro-actively with
multiple audiences, resisting defensiveness, embracing a transparent
approach, acknowledging unknowns. Most recently, CEO Dan Ackerson
said the company would buy back Volts from any ultra-unhappy owners,
and suggested that findings from the NHTSA investigation could result
in design and production changes in the batteries of the Volt and the
CONTRARY TO SOME REPORTS, THE VOLT IS SELLING WELL -- AS MANY AS GM
CAN BUILD. After closing its Hamtramck assembly line for a month in
the summer to triple its capacity, it's gradually ramping up, selling
1,139 units in November to total 6,142 to date.
RON GREMBAN, CALCARS TECHNOLOGY LEAD ANALYZES THE FIRES: To me, the
salient features of the Volt battery fires are:
The first Volt battery fire was in a vehicle that had been rendered
completely inoperable by a severe NHTSA side-impact test -- during
which the battery's coolant system sprung a leak -- followed by:
* Turning the vehicle upside-down
* Storing it for two weeks without draining either the coolant or the
Both subsequent events occurred during further NHTSA tests
specifically designed to replicate and understand the conditions that
led to the first fire. The success of these tests is an indication
not of danger but of a successful destructive testing program.
ALL INCIDENTS HAVE OCCURRED IN BATTERY PACKS COMPROMISED IN WAYS THAT
WOULD ALSO "TOTAL" THE VEHICLE, RENDERING IT FOREVER INOPERABLE.
There have been NO incidents of Volt battery fires in operational
My favorite quotes: from a friend: "If you totally destroy your Volt,
please discharge the battery before parking it in the garage for 10
days." And from automotive journalist Dan Carney: "The lesson here is
to get out of a crashed car within a few days, and be sure to turn
off the lights when exiting. A gasoline car might not be as obliging
in providing an opportunity to climb out before combusting."
So you could say the investigations really answer the question, "How
do we safely store a Volt battery after a serious vehicle-destroying
crash?" Since gasoline vehicles could explode in such crashes, the
gas tank MUST be drained.
If GM was negligent in any way, it was in not widely distributing the
procedures for handling Li-ion battery packs at the time the first
vehicles were sold. (Relevant authorities already know how to handle
air-cooled NiMh hybrid battery packs.)
I would wager that, with the safety systems carmakers are
incorporating, pure electric vehicle battery packs are far safer than
gas tanks. However, since the Volt incorporates both propulsion
systems, it also incorporates both possible sources of fire. The
risks are small, though, and I do not think twice about keeping my
Volt in my garage.
It would be a tragic waste if anti-EV forces succeeded in fueling
this fire and intimidating people into retreating to a continued
embrace of oil addiction.
SOME PLACES TO READ FIRST-HAND REACTIONS FROM VOLT OWNERS ABOUT FIRE
* GM-VOLT.COM: 69 comments
* FACEBOOK CHEVY VOLT OWNERS: commensts at
http://www.facebook.com/groups/chevyvoltowners/ including, written
and evolving online, an Open Letter from Chevy Volt Owners
* FACEBOOK CHEVROLET VOLT (GM-sponsored but unmoderated): 48 comments
to letter by GM Pres. Mark Reuss http://www.facebook.com/chevroletvolt
* PLUGINCARS.COM: 49 comments
* GM-VOLT.COM: 51 comments to a very thoughtful analysis by the
president of Rochester Institute of Technology
* CHEVROLETVOLTAGE.COM (GM-sponsored but unmoderated): 15 comments
GM'S LETTER, EMAILED AND FEDEXED TO OWNERS:
Dear Volt Owner,
You may have seen the recent news articles regarding the NHTSA's
(National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) safety investigation
of the Chevrolet Volt. I'm writing you today with more details that,
I think, will put things in perspective and make you feel better
about your Volt.
First and foremost, I want to assure you of one very important thing:
the Volt is a safe car. The Volt continues to have a 5 star overall
vehicle score for safety in NHTS's New Car Assessment Program. It was
also given a Top Safety Pick Award from the Insurance Institute for
There are good reasons the Volt is safe. Our team has put more than
one million miles into making the Chevrolet Volt as safe as it is
remarkable. After all, our families, neighbors, co-workers and
friends are among those who own the cars we're tasked with designing,
engineering and manufacturing.
Here are the facts behind the most recent news articles. In May, the
NHTSA ran one of its most severe crash tests at a test facility in
Wisconsin. The Volt battery was damaged and the coolant line was
ruptured. Three weeks later, an electrical fire involving the test
NHSTA, working with GM engineers, has been running a program of
severe impact and intrusion tests on Volt battery assemblies as part
of its effort to understand and replicate the May 2011 incident.
Thanksgiving night, NHTSA told us that one of the batteries tested
was involved in an electrical fire similar to the one that took place
in Wisconsin. As a result NHTSA has begun a preliminary investigation
of Chevrolet Volt battery assemblies.
We are aware of no real world consumer incidents that have produced a
similar result. These recent tests show a very rare set of
circumstances: A severe impact resulting in the battery and coolant
lines being compromised. And then the passing of a significant amount
of time before an electrical fire may take place.
The Volt is as safe as conventional vehicles for its occupants --
before, during and immediately after a crash. When electrical energy
is left in a battery after a severe crash it can be similar to
leaving gasoline in a leaking fuel tank after severe damage. It's
important to drain the energy from the battery after a crash that
compromises the battery's integrity. GM and NHTSA's focus and
research continue to be on battery performance, handling, storage and
disposal after a crash.
Even though there have been no customer incidents, we're taking steps
to ensure your peace of mind. If you are in any way uncomfortable
driving your Volt as a result of this information, we want to make it
right. We will provide you a GM vehicle to drive until this issue is
resolved. Contact your Volt Advisor to make arrangements or to answer
your questions. If you are not aware of your specific Volt Advisor,
the contact information is[phone/email].
We take enormous pride in Volt and what it represents -- a new era of
electric vehicles that can reduce dependence on gas, reduce air
pollution, and more. On-going collaboration between the government,
manufacturers and other stakeholders will enhance post crash
protocols and accelerate acceptance of electric vehicles.
There is nothing more important to us at General Motors than the
safety of our customers. We will continue to aid the NHTSA
investigation in every way possible.
We stand 100% behind the quality and safety of the Chevrolet Volt --
now and always.
Thank you for being a Volt owner. By the way I am also a Volt owner,
my daughter drives it every day and she will continue to do so.
Mark Reuss, President GM North America and Volt Owner (#1457)
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