[Oeva-list] FW: [calcars-news] Volt Battery Fires: Potential Crisis Defused?

Brian Lockhart bdlockhart at flyglobalnow.com
Fri Dec 2 15:50:40 PST 2011


This was passed on to me from a co-worker.

 

Brian Lockhart

Vice President/Director of Maintenance

Global Aviation, Inc.

P In the interests of the environment, please print only if necessary and
recycle

 

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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
To: calcars-news-yahoogroups.com
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 
vehicle types 
http://www.nfpa.org/displayContent.asp?categoryID=953
<http://www.nfpa.org/displayContent.asp?categoryID=953&itemID=29658>
&itemID=29658 .

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. 
http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1070076_chevy-volt-electric-car-owners-m
ost-satisfied-consumer-reports-says 

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 
Opel Ampera.

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 
battery's charge

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 
Volts anywhere.

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." 
http://bottomline.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/12/01/9142147-volt-is-drivers-fav
orite-topping-even-porsche

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
HAZARDS:
* GM-VOLT.COM: 69 comments 
http://gm-volt.com/2011/11/29/working-with-nhtsa-gm-offers-loaners-to-post-c
rash-volt-owners/
* FACEBOOK CHEVY VOLT OWNERS: commensts at 
http://www.facebook.com/groups/chevyvoltowners/ including, written 
and evolving online, an Open Letter from Chevy Volt Owners 
http://www.facebook.com/groups/chevyvoltowners/doc/318192408193391/
* 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 
http://www.plugincars.com/nhtsa-investigation--risk-battery-fire-accident-ch
evy-volt-110531.
* GM-VOLT.COM: 51 comments to a very thoughtful analysis by the 
president of Rochester Institute of Technology 
http://gm-volt.com/2011/12/01/evaluating-the-risk-of-fire-in-a-chevy-volt/
* CHEVROLETVOLTAGE.COM (GM-sponsored but unmoderated): 15 comments 
http://www.chevroletvoltage.com/index.php/community.html?func=view
<http://www.chevroletvoltage.com/index.php/community.html?func=view&catid=11
&id=5425#5450> &catid=11&id=5425#5450

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 
Highway Safety.

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 
vehicle occurred.

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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